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Geisha Boy, The (DVD Review)

13 Feb, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/14/12
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Jerry Lewis, Suzanne Pleshette, Nobu McCarthy, Sessue Hayakawa, Marie McDonald.

Jerry Lewis rarely got the lines between slapstick and sentiment to intersect as harmoniously as much as he did here, and there’s a scene in this fourth Lewis outing after his 1956 breakup with Dean Martin that helps explain why fans tend to stick with him through thick and thin. It’s shortly after the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to L.A., and the team is barnstorming Japan (which, as one result, means this is the only movie where you’ll ever see outfielder Gino Cimoli in VistaVision). With Gil Hodges at the plate, Lewis begins heckling the Japanese team’s star (and also behemoth) pitcher, who has previously caused an outdoors tsunami by jumping into a geisha house pool in pursuit of Lewis. The now doubly incensed local legend then heaves a fastball into Lewis’s mouth, and the visual payoff is something akin to the otherwise singular scene in Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night where Lewis (as himself) manages to wrap his entire his jaw around a large drinking glass, a feat for the ages.

Frank Tashlin was Lewis’s best director other than perhaps Lewis himself, and this bright Technicolor comedy gets off to a good start with an opening credits sequence much akin to the one in Tashlin’s Hollywood or Bust, the 16th and final Martin & Lewis vehicle. Picturing geisha dancers brandishing large Japanese fans, it sets the tone for a farce in which magician Lewis (complete with white rabbit named Harry Hare) takes a USO job after a long period of unemployment. Along as well is a slightly down-on-her-luck movie star and instant nemesis played by Marie McDonald — sometimes known as Marie “The Body” McDonald and a much wed “B” actress whose real-life kidnapping not too long before this film’s release had widely been regarded as such a publicity hoax that it inspired the flop Jane Russell comedy The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. McDonald’s is definitely a good-sport performance in that Lewis’s klutzy ineptitudes give her a tough physical time, especially in memorable scene where both embark from a military plane at the same time but not in synch.

Featured here in her big-screen debut is Suzanne Pleshette, looking good within the limitations of army garb and hindered some by some aggressive lipstick that the makeup person should have toned down. Also seen very early in her career is personal favorite Nobu McCarthy (billed as Nobu Atsumi McCarthy), who plays the aunt of an orphaned youngster who attaches himself to Lewis — as well as the squeeze of the baseball star (hence, the jealousy-motivated tsunami). Playing her father is Sessue Hawakawa, who in one memorably amusing bit spoofs his then recent performance as the prison camp commander in The Bridge on the River Kwai, which I’ve always thought should have won him the ’57 supporting Oscar. Writer-as-well Tashlin, as he often did, litters the entire picture with show biz gags, including various ones involving the previous year’s Marlon Brando smash Sayonara; Bob Hope (dubbed into Japanese); the Paramount Pictures mountain (a visual, speaking of Hope, akin to a corresponding gag in Road to Utopia); plus a finale that trades on the director’s early years as a Warner Bros. animator.

Olive Films only supplied a DVD for review, so I can’t say if the Blu-ray looks as good as it should, given that short-lived VistaVision was the greatest photographic process in movie history (not just my opinion but Martin Scorsese’s as well). The colors on the DVD look mighty strong by most standards, though they have slightly less electric snap than on what we’ve seen on Paramount Entertainment’s own VistaVision/Technicolor releases White Christmas and The Ten Commandments. This welcome Olive release is in conjunction with two more new-to-DVD Lewis comedies. One is Boy’s immediately preceding Rock-a-Bye Baby (also from Tashlin), an alleged and in-someone’s-dreams remake of Preston Sturges’ all-timer The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek — a Lewis farce I’ve never really liked. The other is the comic’s most atypical (and, in fact, career-unique) sex comedy Boeing Boeing from Christmas of ’65, which was the last film on his Paramount contract. It is still the only movie I’ve ever seen that lists the actress’s measurements in the opening credits. Even Thelma Ritter’s, which even during my irreverent youth, I thought was a tad short on good taste.

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