OK. So they weren’t Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, or The Marx Brothers. But Martin and Lewis were certainly one of the most successful comedy teams to ever achieve film stardom. And, believe it or not, to this day some of their films are still actually quite funny. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the films of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis!
My Friend Irma (1949). Jerry’s familiar “monkey” character (as Jerry famously referred to himself) was introduced fully formed in this movie. But it all happened by accident. When originally cast as a “normal” person, Jerry just wasn’t funny. As a result, a completely new buffoonish character was created for Jerry to play. It allowed him to be the slapstick clown with whom we are all familiar. And of course, history was made. My Friend Irma is a bit dated but Dean Martin was surprisingly good as a romantic leading man. And a very young Jerry Lewis is something to behold! Recommended.
My Friend Irma Goes West (1950). A film producer who offers Dean a movie deal eventually proves to be an escaped lunatic! Unfortunately, the gang is already headed for Hollywood before the truth is known. So they stop in Las Vegas where they run afoul of a gangster and engage in some over the top slapstick craziness. As a result, Irma and Jerry are actually offered a GENUINE movie deal! Recommended.
At War With the Army (1950) is a military comedy about two entertainers serving in the army. It offers a few decent moments (such as Dean’s imitation of Bing Crosby and Jerry’s imitation of Barry Fitzgerald), but is otherwise forgettable. Skip It.
That’s My Boy (1951). Possibly the best Martin and Lewis film, That’s My Boy takes a look at how some parents just can’t accept the fact that their children must be allowed to make their own choices. Dean is asked to help Jerry become a famous football star like Jerry’s father. But Jerry just doesn’t have what it takes, until… Recommended.
Sailor Beware (1951). Dean wants to go to sea to serve his country. Jerry wants to go to sea for his health. Slapstick nonsense ensues. Fortunately, the comedy keeps it all afloat (such as Jerry remaining topside on a submerging submarine!). Recommended.
Jumping Jacks (1952). More military hijinks as Dean goes from nightclub entertainer to army paratrooper. When he asks Jerry, his civilian partner, to help him stage a show, Jerry is forced to pretend that he too is an army paratrooper! Wonderful comedy ensues when the boys get involved in decidedly crazy war games! Recommended.
The Stooge (1953). I suspect that the script for this film may have contributed to the end of the Martin and Lewis partnership. Dean plays one half of a successful stage act who decides that he no longer needs his partner. Unfortunately, his solo act flops big time. So he hires clueless shlub Jerry to heckle from the audience and engage in “spontaneous” banter. In other words, Jerry becomes an anonymous “stooge.” The Stooge is a very curious film that may well have hit a little too close to home for Martin! Recommended.
Scared Stiff (1953). Boring remake of Bob Hope‘s early 40’s comedy The Ghost Breakers. The boys find themselves sparring with zombies and ghosts within a creepy haunted mansion in pre-Castro Cuba. It’s just too bad the film isn’t funny. Skip It.
The Caddy (1953). In this variation of That’s My Boy, Jerry’s golf pro dad wants Jerry to overcome his fear of crowds and join the pro circuit. To that end, he hires Dean to take golf lessons from Jerry and in so doing, drag Jerry out of his shell. But when Dean proves talented enough to actually turn pro, Jerry becomes Dean’s caddy! This film isn’t a hole-in-one but it offers some great golf-related slapstick. Recommended.
Money from Home (1953). Dean is a gambler in the mid 1920’s who is forced by a mobster to fix a horse race. Complications set-in when he falls in love with the young woman who owns the horse. The climactic slapstick horse race features Jerry as an out of control jockey! Gee… I wonder who wins the race…? Recommended.
3 Ring Circus (1954). Dean takes a job in a circus after leaving the army, allowing his pal Jerry to tag along. This film is worth a look just to see Jerry perform as a genuine circus clown. Recommended.
Living It Up (1954). If only! Lackluster remake of a much better late ‘30s film called Nothing Sacred. Jerry’s doctor (Dean) mistakenly tells Jerry that he has a terminal illness (in this case, radiation poisoning!). So they go on a fling with a couple of girls in New York City! I suspect it really was just indegestion! Skip It.
Artists and Models (1955). An intellectually hollow attack against the comic book industry inspired by an equally intellectually hollow book called “Seduction of the Innocent.” Shame on Dean and Jerry for making this awful film that is only notable for one thing: Shirley MacLaine‘s first movie appearance. Please Skip It!
You’re Never Too Young (1955). In this remake of Billy Wilder‘s The Major and The Minor, Jerry poses as an 11-year-old boy hiding out in an all-girls’ school. That’s because evil Jewel thief Raymond Burr has hidden a priceless diamond in Jerry’s clothing and he’ll do ANYTHING to get it back! The climactic chase with Jerry on water skis is also priceless! Recommended.
Pardners (1956). Parody of Western movies with Dean and Jerry as partners who go West to take back land that their fathers’ (once again, Dean and Jerry) lost to evil bad guys many years ago. Fortunately, the film contains enough rootin’ tootin’ slapstick to make it worthwhile. Side note: Rumors were flying at the time that the boys were on the brink of professional divorce. So Dean and Jerry broke character near the end of the film to speak directly to the audience. They assured everyone that their partnership was solid and that they would continue to make films together. Yeah. Right. Recommended.
Hollywood or Bust (1956). No they wouldn’t. No they didn’t. Fortunately, Dean and Jerry’s mutual animosity didn’t show on screen in their final film together. Con man Dean forces Jerry to share the brand new car that Jerry won in a sweepstakes. They head for Hollywood together, acquiring a slobbering Great Dane pooch along the way! But when Dean falls for a naïve, young lass in Las Vegas, he decides to turn over a new leaf. Hollywood or Bust has plenty of laughs, as well as plenty of ghosts. Jerry said that he and Dean never spoke a word to each other off-camera during its filming. He also said that it’s the one Martin and Lewis film he’s never seen. Too much pain. Recommended.
Next: Jerry Lewis goes it alone.
Blair Kramer is a widely published writer for various publications, including “Velocity: Chicago,” “A Guide to Art in Chicago,” “Comic Book Collector Magazine,” “American Metal Magazine,” and the “Jewish American Historical Society.” He also dabbles in screenplays and comic books. There are only two things in his life that he loves more than good movies. They are his wife and family.