“From the first day I got here, I’ve caused everybody nothing but trouble.”
A clumsy errand boy (Jerry Lewis) on the Paramutual Pictures lot is tasked by its studio head (Brian Donlevy) with spying on all its employees, to determine where money is being wasted — but instead, all Morty (Lewis) seems capable of doing is causing havoc wherever he goes.
The premise of Jerry Lewis’s third film as writer/director/star is likely to appeal to most film fanatics, given that we’re promised an insider’s look at Hollywood movie-making on the Paramount (er, Paramutual) Studios lot — and, for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, it’s easy to stay engaged, as Lewis’s Morty Tashman humorously flubs the various names of the (mostly Jewish) executives he’s introduced to; fails at the seemingly simple task of bringing a few updated script pages to a room full of secretaries; and, when mistaken for an extra, completely ruins the scene he’s in by bursting into song. From there, however, Morty’s travails become increasingly repetitive and/or pointless, with several (i.e., Morty’s botched trip to the car wash with his boss’s laryngitis-ridden wife) simply defying all intelligence.
Much like in Lewis’s directorial debut, The Bellboy, the point here seems to be simply to watch Lewis’s nebbishy alter-ego meandering through a series of mishaps within a defined space — but while The Bellboy‘s blessedly mute Stanley is just one among many pawns in an enjoyably wacky universe, Morty (as usual for most of Lewis’s protagonists) quickly becomes simply a tiresome nuisance. Worst of all, the film’s nominal plot device — Morty being sent out to spy on his fellow employees — is simply never attended to in the screenplay, until a final mawkish sequence (loved by many, but not me) in which Lewis confesses his frustrations to a puppet. Worst of all is the incredibly self-serving denouement, which highlights Lewis’s arrogance as a performer more clearly than I’ve ever seen before. Yet there are at least a few sequences in The Errand Boy which make it worth your time to check out — most notably the justifiably lauded “board room” pantomime scene (available to view on YouTube). This scene alone shows evidence of Lewis’s intermittent genius.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- The truly impressive “board room orchestra” pantomime scene
- The elevator scene (worth a few chuckles)
- The clever opening sequence (in which various genres are exposed for the fiction they really are)
- Brian Donlevy as the head of Paramutual Pictures
- Howard McNear as a relentless sycophant
No — though a few sequences make it worth a look. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.