DVD REVIEW: The Family Jewels (1965)

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This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This DVD, however, played with no problems in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

 

THE SET-UP

After her father dies, a young heiress (Donna Butterworth) has to choose a new father from among her six crazy uncles (all played by Jerry Lewis), even though she prefers Willard, the chauffeur who raised her.

Directed by Jerry Lewis

 

THE DELIVERY

I’ll admit it: I’m an unabashed Jerry Lewis fan. His slapstick humor was quirky and often corny, but it was inspired. After 50 years of wannabes ripping off his style, the appreciation level for Lewis isn’t where it should be. Yes, I take my Jerry Lewis very seriously.

 


 

Many consider The Nutty Professor to be Lewis’ best film, but personally, I prefer his lesser-known films, including Who’s Minding the Store, The Disorderly Orderly, and this worthy diversion from 1965. The Family Jewels was the perfect vehicle for Lewis’ talent, and even though many of the jokes are either too corny for just fall flat, there’s plenty there to keep you entertained. This was one of my favorite comedies as a kid, and it still holds up, even with all the corn.

 

The plot involves heiress Donna Peyton (Butterworth) having to choose one of her uncles as her guardian after her father dies. The uncles, all played by Lewis, are over-the-top but neverthelesss funny caricatures. There’s Uncle James (the grizzled sea captain), Uncle Everett (a bitter circus clown), Uncle Julius (the photographer, essentially a clone of Lewis’ Julius from The Nutty Professor), Uncle Eddie (the pilot, and the funniest character in the movie), Uncle Skylock (the clueless detective), and Uncle Bugsy (the gangster). Of course, Donna prefers Willard (also Lewis), the family chauffeur who has been her true father figure in her life, but it is not allowed under the terms of her father’s will.

 

The film is essentially six smaller skits, in which Donna spends time with each uncle. Each character brings a different kind of ineptitude or stupidity, and Lewis pulls off each perfectly. True, Lewis’ humor is an acquired taste; after all, he was making films for kids and families. As a result, the humor is more silly and slapstick than clever and high-concept. He did however, have a flair for doing something original, and there’s no denying his absolute genius comedic timing and ability to execute the physical gag.

 

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What sets Lewis apart, even today, is his willingness to let a gag fully unfold, and let the humor develop organically. Unlike much of today’s physical humor that takes quantity over quality, Lewis knew how comedy works. Case in point: in the Uncle Julius segment, Lewis juggles two different photo shoots at the same time, making a mess of both in the process, including leaving a husband and wife to slowly wilt under the hot studio lights. In the hands of a lesser director and actor, stretching out a gag ruins the humor, but here, it builds on itself. It is perfectly executed.

 

Also forgotten among many modern comedies is the reaction of the straight man, something Lewis learned during his days touring with Dean Martin. In each of his films, and especially in The Family Jewels, Donna Butterworth and just about every extra Lewis encounters has to give a deadpan reaction to his antics. It works much better than it should. Adam Sandler should take note.

 

Butterworth, who was ten years old at the time, is cute as a button and holds her own with Lewis. The only other supporting actor who gets any real screen time is Sebastian Cabot (Family Affair), Uncle Skylock’s assistant and the source of more than a few laughs in his own right.

 

Like many of Lewis’ comedies of the era, there are some lags in laughs between the major gags, and the acting isn’t Oscar caliber. The Family Jewels may not be a classic comedy, but don’t underestimate it. It is a heck of a lot of fun, and if you’re a Lewis fan, you’ll enjoy every silly minute even more.

 

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VIDEO AND AUDIO

The video transfer is excellent, taken from a clean print with very little debris. Detail is very good, and colors are bright and bold. Even in standard definition, this nearly 50-year-old film looks better than many much younger films. Audio is solid, with both an English and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mix from the original mono soundtrack. With only a two channel mix, it doesn’t have any surround effect to speak of, but the clarity is good.

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

The special features, carried over from a previous release, includes an audio commentary by Lewis and his friend Steve Lawrence, the singer/actor. Why Lawrence is there makes little sense; he’s not in the movie, and instead of facilitating a conversation with Lewis, he sits quiet for long stretches and then just laughs.

 

As a fan of Lewis, I had hoped the commentary would provide some great anecdotes and more insight into his solo movie career, in which he wrote, produced, and directed most of his films. In addition to his work in front of the camera, Lewis is the guy who invented the video playback system on movie cameras, so he could watch his performance without waiting for dailies to come back. He was a movie pioneer, and an underrated one at that.This guy should have had plenty of great stories to tell. We get a few, but mostly we just get them laughing to the jokes on screen. It’s very disappointing.

 

Two screen tests are included: Donna Butterworth (who spends some time with Lewis to see if they had chemistry), and a makeup test for Lewis’ “Bugs” character. Two short blooper outtakes are included and can be played back to back. An original theatrical trailer is also included.

 

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?

Reviews (1-10 scale)

Movie: 7

Video: 8

Audio: 7

Extras: 6

Overall score: 7

 

The Family Jewels is silly family fun and well worth a watch. It may not be among his best, but the barrage of characters he portrays and the sight gags keep it entertaining. The inclusion of a handful of special features is even better. Jerry Lewis fans (like myself) will snatch this up, but if you’re looking for some safe family fun, it is worth a rent.

 

DVD SPECS

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Running time: 99 minutes

Rating: Not rated

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English and Spanish

Special features: Bloopers, screen tests, theatrical trailer

Audio commentary: With Jerry Lewis and Steve Lawrence

Label: Warner Archive

 

Click here to order The Family Jewels on DVD from Warner Archive!