Directed By: Jerry Lewis
Starring: Jerry Lewis, Sebastian Cabot, Donna Butterworth
Tag line: "Jerry is seven times nuttier in seven gems of character portrayal!"
Trivia: Gary Lewis & The Playboys have a cameo, singing their song "Little Miss Go-Go"; their hit song "This Diamond Ring" is also featured
Truth be told, I’m not the biggest Jerry Lewis fan. I thought 1980’s Hardly Working (which marked his return to the big screen after an 8-year hiatus) was dreadful, and Cracking Up, released in 1983, was only sporadically funny. Yes, he was excellent in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, but when it came to his own “unique” brand of humor, I admit I never understood the appeal. The one exception is 1965’s The Family Jewels, a comedy in which Lewis portrays seven different characters, all vying for the attentions of a wealthy little girl named Donna. Unlike most Jerry Lewis movies, The Family Jewels actually makes me laugh.
Per the terms of her late father’s will, young Donna Peyton (Donna Butterworth) must decide which of dear old dad’s brothers will be her new guardian. Accompanied by her chauffeur / best friend Willard (Lewis), Donna travels far and wide to spend some quality time with her five uncles (all played by Lewis): Ferryboat captain James Petyon; circus clown Everett Peyton; professional photographer Julius Peyton; Airline Pilot Eddie Peyton; and private detective Skylark Peyton, who, with the assistance of Dr. Matson (Sebastain Cabot), always gets his man. A sixth uncle, gangster Bugsy Peyton, was reportedly murdered years ago by one of his underworld associates, though his body has never been found. Her back against the wall, Donna must choose one of these men to be her new Father, but in her heart, she knows the right man for the job isn’t even a relative!
Not all of the jokes in The Family Jewels work. The opening scene, a slapstick bit in which Willard inadvertently prevents a gang of thieves from robbing an armored car, is far too broad; and the sequence featuring Uncle Julius the photographer, whose mannerisms were inspired by Lewis’ Nutty Professor character, seemed to drag on forever (along with shooting a breakfast cereal ad, Julius has two models posing under hot lights, and his scatterbrained approach keeps him from finishing either job in a timely manner).
Even with these few hiccups, The Family Jewels is a very funny film. A scene in which Willard temporarily runs a gas station owned by a friend of his definitely has its moments, as does the later sequence where we meet Skylark Peyton and Dr. Matson for the first time (when Donna arrives, the two are knee-deep in their latest “case”). The film’s best scene, however, involves Uncle Eddie the pilot, whose plane is the aeronautical equivalent of a jalopy. Hired to take a group of women to Chicago, Eddie proves that he may not be the most talented navigator out there, but he’s certainly the most entertaining. In addition to Lewis, Donna Butterworth does a fine job as the young heir, and is one of the better child actors I’ve come across in a while.
It’s quite possible that I haven’t given Jerry Lewis a fair shake; I remember very little about The Nutty Professor, and I’ve not seen either The Bellboy or The Geisha Boy, both of which are supposedly good. But even if these other movies fall short of the mark, I’ll always have this one to fall back on. The Family Jewels, is, indeed, a treasure.