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Who’s Minding the Store? (Blu-ray Review)

2 Apr, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Jerry Lewis, Jill St. John, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Walston.

Paramount’s December holiday picture in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination lets us know almost at once that it will adhere to the comfortable Jerry Lewis conventions of the period, which were never too comfy for Lewis detractors. For starters, here’s Jer playing a guy in his mid-20s at a time when, in real life, he was either a late 36 or early 37.

Lewis is also sporting the familiar shiny hair from his “middle period” (though not to those subsequent patent leather extremes) and is, of course, often decked out in a dark suit-&-tie/black shoes combo … which sartorially set off the trademark white socks. And cast as a “Norman,” Lewis has somehow managed to attract one of the consummately built babes of the Hollywood day — Jill St. John — whose character pretends to be a department store elevator operator when she is really daughter of the snob (Agnes Moorehead) who owns the building. Moorehead is seen glammed up in a red wig, about nine months before the premiere of TV’s "Bewitched." This was all a long way from The Magnificent Ambersons, let me tell you.

Store has more of a nominal plot than, say, 1960’s Lewis-directed The Bellboy — which by design was a series of individual skits strung together in ways that seem more artful now than then. But this fifth of eight Lewis vehicles directed by onetime Warner animator Frank Tashlin would probably be just as happy without what is, charitably speaking, the limited plotting that it has. In Looney Tunes fashion, Tashlin and his star are much more interested having a grand time staging the physical mayhem that destroys many of the store’s displays. You know this is bound to happen when Norman gets hired as a clerk, and mom Moorehead (working with lackey Ray Walston) plots to sabotage his every move.

I’m always interested in escapist movies that came out in that roughly two-month period that saw JFK killed, the Beatles’ first visit to America and the release in late January 1964 of Dr. Strangelove. Everything in entertainment was about to change (except with CBS’s R.F.D.-oriented TV programming) – and though certain late-’63 movies seem timeless (think Cary and Audrey in Charade), others had a kind of last-gasp component to them. I’m thinking of John Wayne’s fun-in-the-mud McLintock!, Elvis’s Fun in Acapulco (definitely not the Ursula Andress movie of 1963) and this agreeably compact Lewis package that runs just 90 minutes but still had enough waning clout to be booked solo into one of my downtown’s 2800-seaters.

The Jer-and-Jill repressed kissy-face isn’t very interesting, nor is Lewis’s relationship with her henpecked father (John McGiver, who was more interesting playing a hottie’s pop in the previous year’s The Manchurian Candidate, though he had to take a bullet as part of the assignment). Much, much better — and enough to make Store one of my more favored Lewis outings — are his bossy-lady (or “LAY-dee”) encounters with not just Moorehead but other foils from previous pictures (in fact, even Moorehead had played Lewis’ mother in 1956’s Pardners). As dissatisfied customers for whom shoes don’t fit, TV screen sizes don’t satisfy or whose jewelry is inhaled by a vacuum cleaner are Kathleen Freeman, Mary Treen and Isobel Elsom. I will never understand Lewis’s foot-in-mouth comment about a decade ago about his not regarding women as being particularly funny because there are so many funny women in this farce alone. By the time Nancy Kulp merely walks on screen here (she was then in her "Beverly Hillbillies" glory as “Miss Hathaway” but had also had a memorable encounter with Lewis in 1955’s You’re Never Too Young), it’s time for an involuntary conditioned-response guffaw.

Unlike Olive’s two other recent Lewis-Tashlin releases, Store was shot well after Paramount scrapped financially prohibitive VistaVision — and the money not spent then pays no dividends for home entertainment decades later (also thank you, crummy WarnerColor, thank you Metrocolor, thank you …). The print looks more washed-out than expected, but Paramount always had the most vibrant Technicolor (by far) to start with, so some scenes are notably better looking than others and, in fact, look OK.

Two footnotes. One is that Lewis’s dog-walking scene is so similar to the one of Sean Penn in I Am Sam that that 132-minute groaner-of-its-year could never recover, at least for me. The other is that the day I watched Store, I happened to be listening to the “January 1975” section of my iPod — when “Lady” by Styx came up. It had never occurred to me before, but what a great Jerry cover that would make.

“LAY-deeeee, When You’re With Me, I’m Smiling …"

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