WEIRDLAND: Rebel in the Rye, The Patsy (Jerry Lewis)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rebel in the Rye, The Patsy (Jerry Lewis)


J.D. Salinger is 20th-century literature’s greatest enigma. But you won’t find much new light shed on the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye in writer-director Danny Strong’s polished but cliché-festooned biopic Rebel in the Rye. Nicholas Hoult manages to rise above the tortured-genius claptrap as the young Salinger, a wildly talented but prickly short-story writer whose uniquely contemporary voice is nearly snuffed out by the horrors he witnesses during World War II. Kevin Spacey, as his friend and mentor, gives the film’s sledgehammer moments some subtlety and a bit of his signature special sauce. But Strong’s script is far too conventional for such an unconventional subject. Important events are glossed over, while seemingly unimportant ones overstay their welcome. Worst of all is the film’s troweled-on dime-store psychology: Salinger’s father isn’t supportive; his socialite girlfriend dumps him for Charlie Chaplin; after he stumbles onto Eastern meditation, writing becomes his religion. Added together, they make for convenient story beats, but they don’t provide any real or particularly deep insight into Salinger’s talent, his demons, or his curious exile from the world. In the words of Holden Caulfield, the whole thing feels a bit phony. Source: ew.com

The Catcher in the Rye had been published to universal critical acclaim and enthusiastic public reception by J. D. Salinger in 1951, but Jerry Lewis seemed to have first become aware of it in the early 1960s. “Time magazine did a profile of Salinger,” recalled Art Zigouras. “Jerry had read the profile and sent out people to get copies of The Catcher in the Rye. He wanted to play Holden Caulfield.” Even though he was in his mid-thirties and had never attempted anything besides “The Jazz Singer” that remotely resembled real drama, Jerry was telling people that he was the perfect choice to play Salinger’s alienated anti-hero. “You never saw a more Holden Caulfield guy than you’re sittin’ with right now,” he informed Peter Bogdanovich. “If a person ain’t genuine, I know it. I can spot a dirty, lying, phony rat. I can smell ’em.” He tried to approach Salinger through his agent, but the representative of the notoriously reclusive author didn’t even respond to his queries. Salinger wouldn’t even let not-for-profit groups like the Yale Drama School produce adaptations of his works.

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Jerry Lewis found out later that Salinger’s sister was a buyer for one of the department stores in New York, and he wrote to her to influence Salinger to go ahead with it. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get him.’” “Salinger’s sister told me she used to call him ‘Sonny,’” Lewis revealed to Bogdanovich. “That’s what my grandmother used to call me. It’s frightening.” He never did succeed in wheedling the rights to the novel from Salinger, but even in the late 1970s he was discussing the possibility with dreamy enthusiasm. “Salinger’s sister told me if anyone would get it from him it would be me,” he told an interviewer. “I’m still trying. He’s nuts also. And that’s the only reason that he’s entertaining talking to me—because he likes nuts.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Jerry Lewis and his 1960s masterpieces, including The Patsy (1964), are supreme examples of vulgar modernism, but they are also profoundly humanist. It is often the case in Lewis movies that a female character is the sole source by which Lewis the person/persona can validate his own impulses towards goodness. Ellen (Ina Balin) is the only bulwark against the rest of the world that pushes Stanley away from his simple, bumbling, “authentic” self, which they see as childish, ineffectual, and foolish, the same way those in the audience who have eye-rollingly dismissed Lewis and his movies may see him. Lewis may actually make you feel a little less alone about the unsettling truth that to be human is a constant struggle. Source: sensesofcinema.com

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