Cast & Crew
After being unemployed for six months, inept magician Gilbert Wooley, accompanied by his beloved, clever rabbit Harry, signs on for a USO tour of Japan. At the Los Angeles airport, Gilbert incurs the wrath of movie star Lola Livingston when she blames him for causing her poodle to bark, thereby making an officer enforce the regulation that no pets are allowed. Worried that his act will be ruined without Harry, Gilbert hides him in his trunk, then orders several carrot salads so that he can feed the rabbit. After everyone is asleep, Gilbert sneaks into the cargo hold to feed Harry, but the bunny escapes and in the ensuing chaos, Gilbert inadvertently releases an expanding life raft that traps commanding officer Maj. Ridgley in Lola's sleeping berth. The next morning, sympathetic WAF sergeant Betty Pearson reveals to Gilbert that she is aware of his complicity in the incident and advises him to apologize to Lola before she can complain to the press about Ridgley and ruin his career. When Lola, dressed in an evening gown, is about to descend the stairs leading from the plane, Gilbert approaches her, and as she rebuffs him, he becomes entangled in her skirt and rips it off. They both tumble down the stairs and Gilbert, trying to cover the now-exposed Lola, wraps her in the red carpet laid down to greet her. Their shenanigans are photographed by the waiting press and delight six-year-old orphan Mitsuo Watanabe, who has accompanied his aunt, translator Kimi Sikita, to the airport. That night, Kimi and Mitsuo visit Gilbert at his hotel, where Kimi explains that Gilbert is the first person to make the despondent Mitsuo laugh since the deaths of his parents. Kimi and her father had despaired of ever seeing the boy happy again, and she expresses her gratitude to Gilbert, who is delighted both by the charming youngster and his lovely aunt. Kimi responds to Gilbert's compliments by informing him that she is engaged to Ichiyama, Japan's foremost baseball pitcher, but Mitsuo makes up for the disappointment by telling Gilbert that he loves him and asking him to be his father. Touched by Mitsuo's admiration for his selflessness in coming to entertain the troops, Gilbert promises to visit the boy soon. Meanwhile, private detective Osokawa informs the jealous Ichiyama, who has hired him to follow Kimi, that Kimi visited a foreigner. Soon after, the immense Ichiyama bursts into Gilbert's room and begins chasing him through the streets of Tokyo. Gilbert and Harry wind up in a bathhouse but are able to escape by tripping Ichiyama so that he falls into a huge pool occupied by Lola. A large tidal wave floods the street, and the next morning, an infuriated Ridgley fires Gilbert for having caused a public relations nightmare. Gilbert asserts that while he initially came on the USO tour solely to make money, he now wants to help the troops because of Mitsuo's faith in him, but Ridgley still orders him home. Outside headquarters, Gilbert runs into Mitsuo and Kimi, who tells him that she has broken her engagement to Ichiyama, and that Mitsuo has been praying for Gilbert to be with him always. Gilbert confesses to Kimi that he received a "dishonorable discharge," but Betty overhears and, wanting to help Gilbert keep Mitsuo's high regard, lies to Gilbert, telling him that Ridgley changed his mind and wants him to go alone to Korea to "headline" his own tour. Gilbert is sent to the front lines and finds himself performing for weary, hungry men one at a time in foxholes within dangerous proximity to enemy fire. Despite the difficult conditions and the occasional attempt by a G.I. to eat Harry, Gilbert perseveres. Eventually Gilbert returns to Tokyo and immediately visits Kimi and Mitsuo, who are overjoyed to see him. Gilbert also meets Kimi's father, who is obsessed with building a wooden bridge over the family's large swimming pool. During dinner, Gilbert informs the family that he will be returning to America, as the publicity surrounding his Japanese antics has secured him a booking in Las Vegas. Kimi's father implores Gilbert to stay and live with them so that Mitsuo will continue to be happy, and although Gilbert regretfully demurs, he agrees to spend a day touring Tokyo with the child. The pair spend a happy day together seeing many sights and even take in a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tokyo Tonichi, for whom Ichiyama pitches. After Gilbert's taunts cause Ichiyama to throw a ball into Gilbert's mouth, Gilbert and Mitsuo leave and end their evening with dinner at a Geisha house. Gilbert then carries the sleeping child home and bids a silent farewell to Kimi with a kiss. The next day at the airport, Gilbert is astonished to find himself being followed by Mitsuo, who carries a suitcase on which he has written "The Great Wooley, Jr." Knowing that he must somehow force the youngster to return home, Gilbert yells at him, telling Mitsuo that he no longer loves him and does not want to be his father. Despite his tears, the resolute Mitsuo stows away on the plane. After Gilbert disembarks in Los Angeles and gets a cab, he finds Mitsuo in his trunk and happily promises the child that they will always be together. Unfortunately, Mitsuo's absence has been reported as a kidnapping, and Ridgley, Betty and the police track down Gilbert and Mitsuo. Mitsuo is soon put on a plane returning to Tokyo, but unknown to him, Gilbert and Harry have stowed away on his plane. Gilbert writes a note to Kimi to collect a trunk with a big X on it, slips the note into the sleeping Mitsuo's pocket, then hides in the baggage. Although the trunk is battered severely, Kimi and her father succeed in rescuing Gilbert and Harry, and after they recover from their adventures, Gilbert and Harry are joined by Kimi and Mitsuo in a new, successful magic act. While performing one night, Gilbert pulls Harry out of his top hat and is astonished to see numerous baby bunnies following Harry, who is actually a "Harriette."
Nobu Atsumi Mccarthy
Robert Kazuyoshi Hirano
The Los Angeles Dodgers
Gilbert Ray Hodges
John Roseboro Jr.
Harold "pee Wee" Reese
Edwin D. "duke" Snider
James R. Scott
Shuji Joe Mozawa
Clifford T. Kawada
Stanley W. Cha
Robert "smoki" Whitfield
Ira L. Cook
Paul T. Salata
Robert [r.] Benton
C. C. Coleman Jr.
John P. Fulton
Ernest D. Glucksman
The Geisha Boy - THE GEISHA BOY - Jerry Lewis on the Loose in Japan
Comedy storylines simply don't come any thinner than this. Magician Gilbert "The Great" Wooley (Lewis) sneaks his peculiar rabbit Harry Hare aboard the Air Force U.S.O. plane bound for Tokyo, and proceeds to cause so much havoc with the movie star Lola Livingston (Marie McDonald) that Major Ridgely (Barton MacLane) drums him out of the troupe. But WAF Sergeant Pearson (Suzanne Pleshette, in her first film) takes pity on Gilbert and intervenes. Separated from the other U.S.O. performers, Wooley is parachuted into Korea to entertain troops right in their foxholes. Back in Tokyo he meets Japanese interpreter Kimi Sikita (Nobu McCarthy) and becomes emotionally attached to the young orphan Mitsuo (Robert Hirano). Complicating things is Kimi's boyfriend Ichiyama (Ryuzo Demura), an enormous, jealous baseball player. Her father Mr. Sikita (Sessue Hayakawa) is more understanding. But the desirable Sgt. Pearson is disappointed that Gilbert should fall for a Japanese girl: she's already lost one boyfriend to a local woman.
Why do film critics love Jerry Lewis movies, especially those directed by Frank Tashlin? Not since The Marx Brothers has screen comedy relied so thoroughly on what are essentially surreal effects. The slight narrative of The Geisha Boy simply shows Gilbert's affection growing for the cute Mitsuo. Jerry maintains some of his patented zaniness, but Gilbert is somewhat more mature than earlier, terminally infantile Lewis characters. In Tashlin's hands, Jerry's spastic displays are centered around women: he behaves naturally with Kimi, is slightly dense with Sgt. Pearson, and transforms into a nervous disaster area in the presence of the hyper-glamorous Lola Livingston.
For much of the movie Jerry Lewis serves as a guest star in a parade of Frank Tashlin's personal obsessions, which either lampoon feminism or endorse it, depending on one's outlook. The publicity-hungry Hollywood babe Lola is a focus of Tashlin's gentle derision, as was Jayne Mansfield in the director's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? The sweet alternative Sgt. Pearson, figures she can't compete for men unless she abandons her personal integrity: "I'm going to forget that so-called American emancipated woman type of independence". Although the jokes aren't as sexual as in Tashlin's Fox comedies, the spirit is still there: when Gilbert and Mitsuo take a meal in a Geisha house, the director can't resist including a scene where the little boy is attended by a trio of five year-old Geisha girls.
Wild cartoon gags are found in almost every scene. Gilbert's bunny aide Harry Hare figures in at least 20 rabbit jokes, many of which could be straight from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Besides the usual gags with a magician's hat, Harry shows up in odd places, rides atop vehicles and even gets a suntan at the swimming pool -- in his case, turning from fluffy white to bright red. Tashlin gets easy laughs just by manipulating Harry's ears with filament threads. Many jokes appear to be accomplished with substitute Harry mannequins, including a rabbit that executes a funny banister slide. Harry Hare makes a big hit -- we only wish that he were in the picture more. When the story turns to Gilbert's sentimental predicament, the rascally rabbit goes missing for almost a reel.
Tashlin has great fun when the enormous Japanese baseball player Ichiyama leaps into a bathhouse pool - the flood inundates an entire neighborhood. Some subdued gags are equally effective. Mitsuo's habit of following Gilbert around reminds us of that little lonely cartoon penguin, the one that cries with tears that come out as ice cubes. But other concept-oriented jokes are downright prophetic. Tashlin plays a gag with Bob Hope dubbed in Japanese on the TV, and has a scene where Gilbert can't communicate with some non-English speakers because the wrong subtitles are being used. One elaborate joke with Sessue Hayakawa references a recent epic movie, including a brief film clip appearance of Alec Guinness.. Mount Fuji turning into the Paramount logo is a bald steal from The Road to Utopia, but Tashlin can claim his own heritage when he echoes the last shot of a Warners Merrie Melody: "That's All, Folks!"
Hollywood treatments of Japanese themes weren't always in good taste, but Lewis and Tashlin's comedy is unusually respectful. The only clownish character is the enormous Ichiyama, and he comes off as sort of a Japanese Rondo Hatton. Kimi Sikita is not a bargirl, but a dignified interpreter. The then-controversial issue of intermarriage is accepted without comment, unless we count a joke or two aimed at Marlon Brando and Sayonara. The earnest attitude makes up for the lack of any footage actually filmed in Japan. Burbank's Lockheed Terminal stands in for both American and Tokyo airports, Hollywood's Bronson Caverns subs for a Korean battlefield, and various private gardens serve as the Sakita residence. The prominently billed Los Angeles Dodgers are supposed to be playing exhibition games in Tokyo, but their scenes were filmed at their local field (Dodger Stadium had not yet been built). Adorable newcomer Suzanne Pleshette still has that baby-fat look; old-time Warners baddie Barton MacLane is well chosen as a fall guy for Gilbert's slapstick antics. Playing a Japanese detective is Teru Shimada, who has been appearing in Hollywood movies since the early 1930s.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of The Geisha Boy is a stunning transfer of Paramount's brightly colored comedy, originally filmed in VistaVision. The art direction can be described as Cartoon Casual ... military locales and the airport look fairly normal, but nighttime lighting schemes are frequently augmented with bright pools of primary color. The uncluttered, graphically direct compositions heighten the film's slightly comic-book look. They encourage the surreal effect of many shots, such as the odd sight of Mr. Sakita standing serene and contemplative in his airy garden, watching a duplicate of a familiar bridge being built across his koi pond. Many Jerry Lewis fans rushing to see The Geisha Boy will also discover the wonderfully anarchic Frank Tashlin.
For more information about The Geisha Boy, visit Olive Films. To order The Geisha Boy, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Geisha Boy - THE GEISHA BOY - Jerry Lewis on the Loose in Japan
The most interesting item in the film is the appearance of the real "Los Angeles Dodgers" who made an appearance in the film playing an exhibition baseball game in Japan. This film appearance was directly after the Dodgers abruptly moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn which probably enraged New York filmgoers at the time.
During the opening credits, traditionally dressed Geisha dancers use fans to reveal the credits. The last credit is revealed by a Japanese fan dancer, who appears to be naked behind her large, feathered fan. At the film's conclusion, Jerry Lewis, as "Gilbert Wooley," chews on a carrot, looks at the camera and stutters "That's all, folks," while the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon music plays. The ending was a tribute by director Frank Tashlin, who directed cartoons for Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 1940.
Several "in jokes" occur throughout the film, such as when Gilbert, complimenting "Kimi Sikita" on her beauty, states that now he understands why Marlon Brando liked Japan so much, a reference to the 1957 Warner Bros. production Sayonara (see below). When Gilbert looks up at Mount Fujiyama, he briefly sees a semi-circle of stars around it, making it resemble the Paramount logo. In the sequence in which Gilbert first attempts to find Kimi's home, he asks a Japanese gardener for directions, but when the man speaks, subtitles in Japanese appear superimposed over him. When Gilbert speaks, English subtitles appear, and in disgust, Gilbert states, "We don't understand each other and the subtitles are all mixed up," then departs.
Among reviewers, the most commented-upon joke was The Geisha Boy's parody of the 1957 Columbia release The Bridge on the River Kwai, which co-starred Sessue Hayakawa as the sadistic commander of a prisoner of war camp during World War II. In The Bridge on the River Kwai, Hayakawa's character forces Allied prisoners to build a bridge vital to the Japanese. In The Geisha Boy, the first time Gilbert meets Hayakawa, who plays "Kimi's father," Hayakawa is dressed in a military uniform and is overseeing the building of a small wooden bridge over the family's swimming pool. The workers are whistling the song "Col. Bogey's March," made popular by the earlier film. Gilbert is unnerved by the encounter and comments that Hayakawa resembles "that actor," but Hayakawa retorts that he was building bridges long before the actor was. As Gilbert is turning to leave, he catches a glimpse of actor Alec Guinness, who played a British officer in The Bridge on the River Kwai, in a bit of footage from that film. Bob Hope is also seen briefly in stock footage when "Mitsuo Watanabe" watches a television broadcast of one of Hope's USO tours. The footage of Hope is dubbed into Japanese.
According to the Paramount Scripts Collection, located at the AMPAS Library, the title of Rudy Makoul's original teleplay, which was never produced, was "Pete-San," and was set in Korea rather than Japan. On May 16, 1958, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column noted that Cathy Crosby was being sought for the role of "Betty Pearson" and Red Skelton for a "guest spot." Although Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed: Jeannie Dawson, Hank Mann, Robert Eyer, Edo Mita and Jerry Lewis' father Danny.
A July 17, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Paramount had decided to shoot all of its black-and-white features in standard 35mm "with the top and bottom of frames cropped in the camera finder for projection in either wide or flat screen by theatres." Atlhough the news item stated that The Geisha Boy was currently shooting in the standard 35mm format, the onscreen credits state that it is in VistaVision, Paramount's widescreen process. Studio publicity noted that portions of the picture were shot on location at the Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, CA as well as locations in Griffith Park and Bronson Canyon. A house in Beverly Hills was used for Kimi's home; the UCLA Physics building was the setting for the USAF headquarters in Tokyo; and the baseball sequences were shot at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles.
Although several reviews and studio publicity stated that The Geisha Boy marked Lewis' debut as a film producer, he had earlier produced his 1957 film The Delicate Delinquent. The Geisha Boy did mark the first screen appearance of the Dodgers baseball team after their move to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. According to the picture's pressbook, players from the Little Tokyo Giants and Nisei Trading appeared as the players of the Tokyo Tonichi. The film marked the feature film debuts of Suzanne Pleshette, famous Japanese sumo wrestler Ryuzo Demura and Robert Kazuyoshi Hirano. Nobu Atsumi McCarthy, who, according to studio publicity, was cast after Lewis interviewed 200 Japanese actresses, had appeared previously in a small role in the Twentieth Century-Fox production The Hunter, which was released in September 1958 (see below). In most of the actress' film and television appearances, she was billed as Nobu McCarthy. Studio publicity added that Lewis considered more than 250 children before casting Hirano, who had been living in the United States for nine months. Other boys who were tested for the role of Mitsuo included Lance Kitamura, Robert Kirano and Mike Maruhashi.
Studio publicity also reported that numerous rabbits were used to portray "Harry." The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review mistakenly lists Harry as "Harvey," a reference to the noted 1950 film of that name. The Geisha Boy marked the first screen appearance of Marie McDonald since the 1950 Republic release Hit Parade of 1951 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 for both) and her first film since her alleged and well-publicized kidnapping in January 1957. Police, who suspected that the incident was staged for publicity, never made an arrest in the case. McDonald did not make another film until the 1963 Noonan-Taylor Productions film Promises! Promises! (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).
Released in United States Fall November 1958
Released in United States on Video February 26, 1992
Released in United States on Video February 26, 1992
Released in United States Fall November 1958