The Errand Boy (1961)
“Fractures Hollywood with a Million Howls!”
Director: Jerry Lewis
Cast: Jerry Lewis, Brian Donlevy, Howard McNear
Synopsis: Paramutual Pictures wants to know where all the money is going so they hire Morty to be their spy. Morty works for Mr. Sneak and gets a job in the mail room so that he can have access to the lot.
Jerry Lewis turns his attention to the hand that feeds him in The Errand Boy, a typically graceless exercise in juvenile comedy that foregoes the requirements of a plot to provide the viewer with a succession of comic sketches with variable success. Ironically, The Errand Boy would work much better if it weren’t for the perpetually-mugging presence of the man-child Lewis, whose antics quickly grow tiresome, and drag down some otherwise inspired gags.
He plays Morty Tashman, a typically simple, childlike man who is employed by studio magnate T. P. Paramutual (Brian Donlevy — Destry Rides Again, The Glass Key) to spy on his employees to find out just why his studio keeps putting out box office duds. Paramutual needs someone who will arouse no suspicion amongst the staff, and in that respect he selects the perfect man in Tashman. Nobody would suspect such a witless oaf of having any kind of hidden agenda. Tashman wanders around the studio in his role of errand boy, creating havoc wherever he goes, learning only that he doesn’t have it in him to spy on his new fellow employees.
Although The Errand Boy probably stands as one of Jerry Lewis’s better efforts, that doesn’t count for much if you find his brand of humour to be largely unpalatable. Much of Lewis’s dialogue appears to be improvised, with mangled sentences going nowhere, ending abruptly to be replaced by an equally aimless ramble. For every gag that does work — the rapidly emptying water cooler which works superbly simply because it lasts no longer than a few seconds — we have to sit through a dozen that fail. In one sequence, Tashman works at a sweet counter visited by three children the first of whom wants jelly beans from the giant bottle high on the top shelf. Tashman precariously scales a ladder to reach the bottle, and admittedly defies our expectations that the beans will spill everywhere, but as soon as he begins climbing the ladder to return the bottle without first asking the second child what he wants, we know with a sinking feeling that we’ll have to watch him go through this routine twice more in return for a pay-off that just isn’t worth waiting for. At least The Errand Boy’s lack of a plot means that the sketches are delivered at a pace that prevents its audience from growing bored, and kids will enjoy the slapstick. Discerning adults probably wouldn’t have bothered watching in the first place…
(Reviewed 13th February 2014)