Collection shows chemistry of Martin and Lewis

Critics' Picks: New Dvds

June 03, 2007|By Nick Madigan

DEAN MARTIN & JERRY LEWIS COLLECTION Volume Two -- Paramount Home Entertainment / $34.99

To moviegoers of the 1950s, the young Jerry Lewis was a major comic, a pratfall-prone clown who would stop at nothing for a laugh. If his exuberant whining was sometimes hard to bear, his rough edges were smoothed out by his partner, the crooner Dean Martin, who was everything Lewis was not - composed, confident and cool.

Their strange but oddly effective chemistry is given full range in a quintet of movies set for release Tuesday on DVD.

The package, which has no bonus features, includes one of Martin and Lewis' top-grossing pictures, Living It Up (1954), a romp through New York by two country rubes who manage to take the pompous city elders for all they're worth. The film, in which Lewis performs a wildly hyperactive dance with Sheree North, capitalizes on fears of nuclear conflagration, widespread at the time. Lewis' character, Homer Flagg, pretends to be dying of radioactive poisoning - with Martin as his hack doctor - and claims his dying wish is to visit New York.

Janet Leigh plays a newspaper reporter who falls for the ruse and persuades her editor (Fred Clark) to pay for their trip from Desert Hole, N.M., to the big city and to put them up at a fancy hotel. The trouble begins when both guys fall for the girl.

In 1955, Paramount released You're Never Too Young, a remake of Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor (1942), which starred Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. The new version co-starred Nina Foch and Raymond Burr and was filmed partly on location in California's San Bernardino Mountains, a departure from the studio lots used in most of the Martin and Lewis pictures.

Also in 1955, they came out with Artists and Models, with a young Shirley MacLaine in her second film. Martin and Lewis' 15th movie as a team, the wacky Western Pardners, was released in 1956. It co-starred Agnes Moorehead, Lee Van Cleef and Lon Chaney Jr., and featured a memorable song-and-dance number by Lewis, Buckskin Beauty.

The duo's 16th and last film together was Hollywood or Bust (1956), a satire of Hollywood life.

In its opening scene, the pair salutes movie fans around the world against a backdrop of footage of Los Angeles and Las Vegas landmarks.

Lewis plays Malcolm Smith, a movie buff whose dream is to go to Hollywood and meet Anita Ekberg. Martin is Steve Wiley, a gambler down on his luck who cons Smith into taking him to Hollywood under the premise that he lives there, right next to the luscious Ekberg.

The formula for the duo's films was almost unvarying: the languid, slightly disreputable Martin in unlikely alliance with the infantile, manically prancing Lewis, a blueprint that worked wonders at the box office until the two men, not known for modest egos, clashed and stopped speaking with each other.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

TRADING PLACES --Paramount / $14.99

COMING TO AMERICAParamount / $14.99

NORBITParamount / $29.99

Eddie Murphy is another comedian with an ego; he also has an inconsistent record. On Tuesday, Paramount is releasing three of his movies on DVD. In descending order of quality, they are Trading Places (1983), Coming to America (1988) and Norbit, released earlier this year to almost universal derision despite pulling in some $95 million in receipts.

Trading Places remains one of Murphy's most engaging films, a tale of a wily, penniless hustler who swaps his life with that of a sniffy Wall Street executive (Dan Aykroyd). The film also stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. The DVD features a mini-documentary, The Making of Trading Places; a deleted scene; and trivia questions.

In Coming to America, Murphy plays an African prince who, rather than submit to an arranged marriage, embarks on a quest to find a bride he can respect. Murphy and Arsenio Hall play multiple characters in the film. The DVD includes several bonus features, including several mini-documentaries, a "vintage" interview with Murphy and Hall, and the theatrical trailer.

Norbit, another film replete with Murphy's multiple characters, centers on a timid protagonist, raised in a Chinese orphanage, who is pushed around by a large, mean, junk-food-chugging queen, Rasputia (also played by Murphy). The movie also stars Thandie Newton, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Marlon Wayans. Its special features include The Making of Norbit, 14 deleted scenes and a photo gallery.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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