Artists and Models [1955]

Genre: Comedy, Musical
Surely even the French, with their legendary love of all things Jerry Lewis, will be sated by the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Vol. 2, a three-disc package containing five comedy-musicals released on DVD for the first time. It would be a supreme stretch to call any of the five films in question (You're Never Too Young, Artists and Models, Living It Up, Pardners, and Hollywood or Bust) a classic, but then, anyone looking for challenging storylines and deep characterizations probably wouldn't be here in the first place. What the films offer instead are various breezy diversions, in the form of Martin, the suave, smooth talking cad and crooner; a parade of lovely young women (Dorothy Malone, Anita Ekberg, Janet Leigh, and Shirley MacLaine among them); some terrific musical numbers that are the highlights of their respective films; and, of course, the antics of Lewis, whose capacity for slapshtick and mugging is apparently inexhaustible. By this time (the mid-1950s), the two had already fit comfortably into their respective personae, with Lewis as the naïve, ingenuous rube and Martin right there to take advantage of him. In Artists and Models, Martin's aspiring painter cops ideas from the frenzied dreams of his comics-obsessed roommate (Lewis, natch) and creates a hit comic of his own, a simple story that's derailed by an absurd and unnecessary subplot involving the U.S. government and some enemy agents. Living It Up, adapted from an earlier musical called Nothing Sacred, finds Lewis cajoled by Martin, his doctor (talk about a stretch!), into pretending that he's suffering from radiation poisoning so they can both enjoy a lavish trip to New York courtesy of a newspaper trying to boost circulation by playing up the "dying" man's plight. Hollywood or Bust, a combination road picture and gentle spoof of the movie biz, casts Martin as a gambler and con man accompanying film fanatic Lewis on a trip to Tinseltown, while Pardners is a Wild West romp ("Jerry Lewis as a gunslinger" about sums it up) and You're Never Too Young puts Lewis totally in his element as he impersonates a 12-year-old boy in order to escape bad guy Raymond Burr. The plots are thin, at best, and the songs are hardly Oscar caliber. Still, the two stars have an undeniable chemistry, and the musical set pieces are highly entertaining, most notably a sort of pas de duh (sic) between Lewis and MacLaine in Artists and Models and an eye-popping, show-stopping dance number in Living It Up. In the end, it all basically comes down to one's capacity to endure Lewis' manic mannerisms (it's worth noting that by Hollywood or Bust, the pair's last collaboration, he's pretty thoroughly upstaged by a Great Dane). If even this cornucopia isn't sufficient, perhaps a move to France is in order. The set contains no bonus material. --Sam Graham

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