WEIRDLAND: Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin's romantic dynamic

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin's romantic dynamic

Contrasting the romantic personae of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Frank Tashlin's 1956 satire, "Hollywood or Bust": Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin dynamic functions with Martin being charismatic and street-wise, and Lewis is the sympathetic goofball. This contrast is accentuated in Frank Tashlin’s Hollywood or Bust (1956), since the film is an emphatic and cartoonish erotic fantasy. By the end of the film, Lewis’s clumsy, childish protagonist ends up with his Hollywood crush, Anita Ekberg. If this, by itself, requires a great effort in suspending disbelief, it’s also worth mentioning that before the Martin & Lewis characters settle into their monogamous relationships, they get a lot of female attention. Literally dozens of women wave to them as Martin & Lewis drive through the USA smiling and singing, and in their every scene that’s set in a populated space (backstage, casino), they end up surrounded by fresh-faced female onlookers.

The Lewis/Ekberg romance is sparked by a ridiculous plot twist: his hound promptly seduces the actress’s lap dog, and their owners eventually follow their mating call. However, if we were to see the film as a satire of precisely this script-guaranteed female attainability of Hollywood cinema, it becomes a pretty interesting text. In this sense, Lewis’s romantic plot is the more progressive one—he certainly embarrasses himself often enough to let us conclude that he gets the girl through sheer, Forrest Gump-level dumb luck. Martin’s romantic plot remains more problematic throughout. He ends up seducing a chorus girl—a less glamorous, proletarian woman—and in spite of the jolting near-rape scene of his early attempt to get into her favors, her caution toward him inexplicably gives way to warmer feelings. By casting Martin—the presumed object of many female spectators’ fantasies—in the role, this development seems less troubling: after all, regardless of plot evolution, what woman would turn him down?!

To structure this video essay on the contrast in the two actors’ film personae. By giving a skewed reading of the visual evidence, I intend to suggest the complexity of consuming a a traditional Hollywood narrative—how the cognitive work of watching it (and evaluating it, for merit and plausibility) intertwines with personal biases and indulgence in wishful thinking.  Since infatuation and lucid observation are often antithetical, I needed a second line of discourse—a colder, crisper, written “voice”—to carry the commentary further than the voice-over could possibly take it. Hollywood or Bust is about the two men’s conquest of women, but also about the spectators’ privileged access to these two men—and it is due to Hollywood’s cunning exploitation of desire that it took so long to clear up the haze.

Money from Home (1953) directed by George Marshall, is neither a canonical work nor a philosophical treatise. It is, though, worth remarking on when a sweet-natured movie explores the gap between a transactional approach to social life and an altruistic, cooperative one. Honeytalk tries to get things on credit, Virgil does what he can to loan himself out. Virgil’s romantic transformation comes when he meets a veterinarian and fellow vegetarian, Autumn Claypool (Pat Crowley). A lovely scene involves the two of them visiting a vacant lot that will host their future clinic. They know that they are not at this place yet, but hope to get there. Someone calls Virgil “unusual” in Money from Home, and indeed he is. The promise of a place where Virgil, too, might receive as he gives makes for a wonderfully, disproportionately moving sentiment. Home, or bust. Source:

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