The Nutty Professor (1963)
The Nutty Professor (1963)

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: June 7th, 1963 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jerry Lewis Actors: Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman, Med Flory, Norman Alden, Milton Frome

 


 

D

uring one of bespectacled, hunched, buck-toothed, frazzle-haired, nasally-voiced, ASU Professor Julius F. Kelp’s (Jerry Lewis) science classes, a chemistry experiment goes awry, resulting in a colossal explosion that rocks the entire campus. As firefighters arrive on the scene to survey a leveled classroom, Dr. Mortimer Warfield (Del Moore) demands that the irresponsible teacher speak with him immediately – just as soon as secretary Mrs. Lemmon (Kathleen Freeman) unearths Kelp from beneath the door, under which a human-shaped crack in the concrete floor houses his crumpled body (like a skit from a Looney Tunes cartoon). Warfield is at his wit’s end, ready to dismiss the bumbling, irresponsible instructor.

“You are a menace!” This isn’t even the first time that Kelp has caused a sizable fulmination at a university. Nevertheless, his recklessness – which could potentially kill someone – musters only a heated censure. The next day, he’s right back to work, where he receives no respect from his students. Before the first period is over, he’s stuffed into a cabinet by a jock (Med Flory), requiring a bit of a rescue from one of the prettier girls in attendance – Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). This inspires the belittled, bullied man to join a Vic Tanny gym, where he can gain some muscle … and perhaps some confidence.

“How stupid of me.” The start of the film finds Lewis donning a sensationally goofy nerd voice, awkward mannerisms, and embarrassing timidity, designing a character bursting with potential for a makeover. Directed by Lewis as well, the film adopts continual slapstick, obnoxious sound effects, and even breaks from reality – particularly during a scene in which Kelp’s arms are stretched to the ground by a heavy barbell – on its way to that looming physical renovation.

Of course, the crux of the picture is Kelp’s Jekyll and Hyde formula, arising from his determination to approach bodybuilding from a chemical standpoint after traditional means fail spectacularly. With a collection of vials, baubles, tubes, and flames, he crafts an elixir that radically transforms him into his alter ego: the bold, sharply-dressed, worldly, smooth-talking, dashing – yet highly conceited, short-tempered, and egomaniacal – Buddy Love. This iteration is the complete opposite of the dweeby professor – a comic take on the Robert Louis Stevenson premise, even though the actual transformation does indeed mimic the monstrous metamorphosis, complete with hairy appendages and gnarled teeth.

Although the contrast is exaggerated to an excessive degree, the comic timing is consistent and dependable. Interestingly, the nutty professor’s revamp isn’t actually the solution to his problems; he’s so overbearing that his main conquest – spellbinding blonde Stella – is initially completely turned off from his pushiness and arrogance. This new persona is, however, a stepping stone to realizing that he’s capable of being Kelp and Love at the same time; too much of either personality makes for a bad mix.

Love’s over-the-top disagreeableness and self-destructive qualities provide plenty of laughs, yet Stella’s infatuation grows less and less convincing. At least she’s quick to realize that there’s something off about the swinger, and that Kelp might be involved. Fortunately, every time the central romance falters, eccentric subplots crop up – the best of which is the impressionable Warfield. Unfortunately, the pacing isn’t quite right (extraneous comic relief from bit parts, like Jennifer the talking bird and a flashback to Kelp’s parents, pointlessly stretch out the runtime), taking too long to reach the finale. And that catastrophically uncomfortable unraveling, laden with lessons about self-esteem, isn’t nearly as fitting or as funny as the setup.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10