Cast & Crew
Wealthy Ridgeville businessman "Jarring Jack" Jackson, a former college football hero, enjoys a robust, productive life but worries that his teenage son "Junior" is too "soft." Junior's mother Ann, an ex-Olympic swimmer, tries to explain to Jack that according to their doctor, their stumbling, myopic, allergy-prone son is actually suffering from poor self-esteem, caused by the stress of Jack's paternal expectations. Jack dismisses Ann's analysis and attempts to engage in a heart-to-heart discussion with Junior, who is about to graduate from high school. When Junior finally reveals his desire to attend an agricultural college and become a veterinarian, Jack all but orders his son to go to Ridgeville University, his alma mater . That night, during Junior's graduation dance, Jack meets Bill Baker, the high school's most talented football player. Bill's sickly father Henry is employed by Jack as a bookkeeper, and Jack complains to Ann about the fickleness of heredity. Junior, meanwhile, waits in vain for the opportunistic Betty "Babs" Hunter to dance with him, then drives her home while Bill romances her in the back seat. Later, Ridgeville's football coach, Wheeler, drops by Jack's office and asks Jack to finance Bill's way through the university, as his father cannot afford the tuition. Jack agrees on condition that Wheeler put Junior on the football team, and the coach reluctantly accepts Jack's terms. Jack then informs Bill about the deal and requests that he room with Junior and make an athlete out of him. That night, psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Green dines at the Jacksons', having been invited by Ann expressly to address Junior's problems. Although Benjamin declares that Jack is suffocating Junior, Jack is unfazed by the criticism. Benjamin then speaks privately with Junior, who confesses his fears that he will never live up to Jack's expectations. After telling Junior to meet his father "halfway," Benjamin counsels Jack to spend more time with his son. The next day, Jack asks Junior to spend the following Sunday with him, and Junior suggests they go hunting. By the end of the nerve-wracking excursion, Jack and Junior are drunk and Junior has agreed to attend Ridgeville. On the first day of college, Junior is dismayed to discover that Bill is his roommate, but then decides to make friends with him. Despite Bill's help during the first football practice, thin, frail Junior is battered and bruised. That night, while Junior is taking a bubble bath, co-ed Terry Howard drops by the dorm room, selling men's sports clothes. Bill is immediately attracted to Terry, as is Junior. Later, the enterprising Terry, a psychology major, tells Junior that he lacks self-confidence and that she would like to make him her "guinea pig." Unaware of Bill's interest in Terry, Junior asks his roommate for help in romancing her, but Bill is noncommital and kisses Terry the next time they meet. Just before Ridgeville's first football game, Jack gives Junior a pep talk and insists that he wear his old jersey. Despite his father's encouragement, Junior ends up scoring a touchdown for the rival team and losing the game. Ann chastises Jack when he whines about the humiliation he has suffered and assures Junior that his father will not be making any more decisions for him. Jack then tells Bill that, even though Junior has been dropped from the team, their deal is still on. Later, Bill, who has come to like Junior, goes to Wheeler and declares that he will not play unless Junior does. Not wanting to lose his star player, Wheeler acquiesces, but Terry has to promise Junior she will wear his pin to get him to stay in school. Although Bill is upset about deceiving Junior, Terry insists that Junior will accept their relationship once his self-confidence has been built up. Over the next several weeks, Bill leads Ridgeville to a series of victories, while Junior remains on the bench. Between games, Bill and Terry work tirelessly with Junior, pushing him to improve his skills. The day before Ridgeville's homecoming game, Junior announces to Bill that he is proposing to Terry the next night, and Bill, suddenly jealous, gets drunk and is expelled. Without Bill, Ridgeville falls behind in the game and is in danger of losing the championship. Desperate, Terry admonishes Junior to stop thinking only of himself and try his hardest to help his school and Bill. Wheeler puts the energized Junior in, and Junior runs for a touchdown, then kicks a game-winning field goal. Now a bona fide hero, Junior blesses Bill and Terry's relationship, rejects the opportunistic Babs, and shows his father that he no longer needs his glasses. Bursting with pride, Jack, in turn, proclaims, "That's my boy!"
Boyd Red Morgan
Phyllis J. Woodward
James Henry Burris
C. C. Coleman
Mickey Mccardle Usc
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Though TV may have preserved Martin & Lewis' act in its purest form, their film career was in many ways the most spectacular. With 16 films in seven years their schedule would have overcome many other performers, especially with the constant stream of other appearances. Even more impressive is that they were able to stay reliably solid, something you can witness on the Martin & Lewis Collection: Volume 1 (Paramount) which has eight of their first nine films and a nice Al Hirschfeld caricature on the cover. Missing is 1950's At War with the Army, produced by the duo's own York Productions; possibly the rights weren't available but you can find the film from several companies that specialize in budget public-domain films. In any case the collection is a great opportunity to follow the first half of Martin & Lewis' career and see some nice films as well. It's interesting that their path roughly paralleled Abbott and Costello's: initial tryouts in supporting roles then a trio of service comedies before moving along to genre parodies. But it's only a superficial resemblence since Abbott and Costello made films that are interesting only in bits while Martin and Lewis' films work more consistently and with greater range--perhaps driven by Jerry's infamous perfectionism or maybe it was just a studio willing to spend a bit more money.
Martin and Lewis' initial films tested the waters. Their debut was 1949's My Friend Irma, based on a popular radio show that followed the misadventures of Irma (Marie Wilson), a ditzy blonde given to malapropisms and general kookiness. Of course that's a little hard to maintain next to Jerry Lewis even when he's a bit subdued. Wilson and a few supporting players were brought over from the radio show for a story about trying to make a fortune off Dino's singing ability. The result is a pretty standard comedy for that time so it's really only Martin & Lewis' appearance that this is even remembered today. They couldn't have spent much time working on it since sections are clearly pulled directly from their nightclub act. Also of note is John Lund playing Irma's scheming lowlife boyfriend Al to the hilt. My Friend Irma Goes West (not an actual Western, fans would have to wait a few years until Pardners) appeared just eight months after the first film but oddly ignores the plot of the entire last half hour of the previous film. This time Martin & Lewis have larger roles and it doesn't hurt that Corinne Calvet was tossed in as a sexpot film star but the result is all too obviously rushed. All the outdoor Southwestern scenes are done in front of projection screens and again chunks come from Martin & Lewis' act, including a great bit where Lewis tries to conduct Martin's backing orchestra. Boyfriend Lund is toned down and Lewis does a dubious Indian impersonation but at least the film shows Martin & Lewis weren't just a one-time hit.
At War with the Army followed (missing from the set as described above) and then in 1951 That's My Boy, one of the low points of either performer's career. They're no longer supporting players but now up front and center though unfortunately trapped in a story about Lewis trying to please his football hero father with the help of quarterback Martin. A kind of Harold Lloyd retread, That's My Boy is painfully heavyhanded while rarely working as comedy and never as drama. It's the kind of film where a psychiatrist appears just long enough to explain the blatantly obvious father-son friction then promptly disappears. Some viewers might get a kick out of seeing Martin (age 34) and Lewis (25) play teenagers and others can't help but wonder whether in 1951 quarterbacks also returned punts and kicked the extra point or the studio just wanted to give Martin more screen time. The film has the look of a cheap television production with everything lit in full glare, clumsy camera movements and sets that feel like they'll tumble apart if an actor turns too suddenly. Inexplicably it was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award as best-written comedy and inspired a one-season TV show.
But put all that behind you. Martin & Lewis hit the proverbial pay dirt with Sailor Beware (1952) where the fellows somewhat unintentionally end up in the Navy and then try to win a silly bet. It was based on a play previously filmed three times but now adapted by Three Stooges scripter Elwood Ullman with additional dialogue by Abbott & Costello's regular gag writer John Grant. There's nothing tired about the resulting film because it shows Martin & Lewis to full effect in a nice mix of both verbal and physical humor. There are some nightclub bits again but also routines built out of the circumstances, one of the most memorable being Lewis' attempts to swab the deck of a submarine while unaware it's submerging. The plot itself is pretty much irrelevant but allows a wide variety of situations: a physical exam, a kissing contest, cramped ship's quarters, a Hawaiian luau. Martin sings at his most Bing Crosby-like and even makes an explicit reference to it. Add a cameo by Betty Hutton (who starred in a previous version of the film, 1942's The Fleet's In) and an early appearance by James Dean who has one line of dialogue and it's easy to see how Martin & Lewis earned so many fans.
The duo followed this success with a couple of slightly more routine but still entertaining films. Jumping Jacks (1952) places them in the paratroopers and features more military hijinks. Imagine Jerry Lewis dealing with a rough drill sergeant or trying to pack a parachute and you've got the general idea. Note that Dino's character is named Chick just as Bud Abbott was in a couple of films. The Stooge (1952) had been filmed two years earlier but withheld from release, perhaps because producer Hal Wallis reportedly didn't much like it. The film isn't in the usual Martin & Lewis mold since it's mostly a drama with comic bits and curiously the story reflects the duo themselves though it's not clear how much of that was deliberate. Martin plays a singer/performer during the 1930s who decides he should be a solo star instead. When his act bombs, Lewis helps out as an enlisted stooge and they're immediately popular but Martin still considers this a solo act and pushes Lewis' character into the background. The film captures show business self-obsession and drive clearly without becoming cliched. Both main characters are believable: Martin arrogant and star-addled, Lewis charmingly loyal and unconcerned about money. Most of the comedy is performed within the storyline, usually in wonderful routines the two do on Broadway stages, and for a touch of period authenticity all the songs but one are actually from the period. (Originally issued as Martin's first 10" album but interested fans can find them on a CD called Dean Martin Sings.) The Stooge isn't All About Eve or A Star is Born but it's certainly been unfairly dismissed over the years.
The more humorous Scared Stiff (1953) is the collection's other standout. A remake of Bob Hope's 1940 The Ghost Breaker (itself based on a play filmed twice in the silent era), this is easily the set's best-looking film due to director George Marshall and cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (Inherit the Wind among seven Oscar nominations and one win). They seem to have decided to work as if this was a straight-forward mystery with a touch of noir (most of the ghost story parody is wisely kept towards the end) so there's a visual richness to the rainy streets, foggy ship decks and moist tropical jungle that recalls classic Hollywood. Just as important Martin & Lewis are given a strong supporting cast with Lizabeth Scott as the woman in distress, Dorothy Malone as a loose showgirl, George Dolenz as an unreliable lawyer and Carmen Miranda as ship-board entertainment (her last film appearance). The songs are some of the best in the series, even novelty numbers like "Enchiladas" and "Bongo Bingo," and Dean gets one top-notch romantic ballad. Martin even opens the film with a performance of his earlier hit "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" which was recorded the following year by a young Mississippi guy named Elvis Presley. The song was originally intended for Cinderella but never made the cut and while Martin and Patti Page both had hits with it in 1950, Elvis based his version on what he saw in Scared Stiff.
The Caddy (1953) also boasts strong songs, this time from the great Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. Martin's signature "That's Amore" was introduced in this film but "What Wouldcha Do Without Me?" and "The Gay Continental" (the latter performed by Lewis alone) are just as memorable. There's the usual comedy setup; this time Lewis as a superb golfer with such stage fright that he can't play in tournaments so he pairs with the untutored talent of Martin so they can win enough money to save the fishing business of Martin's family. Oh, don't worry whether that makes much sense because again the story isn't quite the point. There are echoes of The Stooge in the way that Martin's character heads for the high life to romance Donna Reed and pushes Lewis away as merely his caddy but it never overpowers the film. After all there's an extended sequence of pure slapstick at the opening where Lewis accidentally demolishes much of a department store and he's given other comic routines to avoid growling watchdogs, deal with the low ceiling of his bedroom or simply follow his fiance home. Martin & Lewis may have been coasting through The Caddy (and their personal relations were really starting to fray at this time) but not many people could coast this productively.
The Martin & Lewis Collection features the films in the solid transfers we've come to expect. The one exception being That's My Boy which is a bit soft though since the original film wasn't very nice looking it might not much matter. There are no extras except for an occasional trailer and while nobody expects full audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries a set like this definitely deserves at least a written overview of the team's history. Let's hope that Volume 2 follows soon since it should include Martin & Lewis' masterpiece Artists and Models as well as such strong contenders as Hollywood or Bust and Living It Up.
For more information about Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, go to TCM Shopping.
by Lang Thompson
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Football great, Frank Gifford, doubled for Jerry Lewis in the kicking scenes.
The working title of this film was Junior. Onscreen credits include the following written statement: "Services of Cy Howard by Arrangement with Columbia Broadcasting System." Writer Howard, who created the My Friend Irma radio show, had worked with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on two previous Wallis-Hazin films, 1949's My Friend Irma and 1950's My Friend Irma Goes West (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). According to a late May 1950 Par News item, Howard was being considered to direct That's My Boy. The picture marked Eddie Mayehoff's screen acting debut. In addition to dance director Eddie Prinz, Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors and dancers in the cast: Martin Lewis, Gregg Sherwood, Mary Murphy, Val Carter, Jay Gerard, Bill Dyer, Marlene Kisker, Marilyn Hockenson, Cliff Storey, Charley Cirillo, Hugh Binyon, Bernard Elmore, Hal Rand, Beverly Bradley, LaVonne Battle, Shirley Christensen, Dianne Frederick, Anita Gegna, Beverly Jordan, Penny Powers, Lucille Rambeau, Shirley Ricket, Tommy Summers, James Scott, Daniel Nelson, Bob Simpson, Robert Haines and Frank O'Connor. The appearance of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, the football sequences were filmed at Occidental College in Los Angeles. C. C. Coleman is listed onscreen as second unit director and in Hollywood Reporter productions as assistant director. It is not been determined whether he worked in both capacities.
As indicated in a November 1951 Variety news item, entertainer Jimmy Durante sued Wallis-Hazen, Inc. for $350,000 in damages, claiming that the expression "That's my boy" had been identified with him since 1943, when he was a regular on Garry Moore's radio show. The disposition of the lawsuit is not known. According to a November 1965 Daily Variety item, Lewis was negotiating with producer Hal Wallis to remake That's My Boy, with his son Gary as co-star. The remake was never produced, however.