The Patsy (1964)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Errors, Showbiz Comedy  |   Release Date - Aug 12, 1964 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Donald Guarisco

The films that Jerry Lewis directed could get self-reflexive but few ever took it as far as The Patsy. On the surface, it has a typical Lewis-film premise: a lovable loser gets in over his head but triumphs thanks to his innate decency and a little help from a loving woman. The Patsy also delivers the expected laughs: highlights include a scene where Lewis botches an attempt to lip-synch a terrible pop record on a teen dance show, another moment where he drives two of his minders mad by consistently botching a nightclub routine and a hilarious scene where a music lesson ends in mass destruction of a roomful of antiques. However, The Patsy surprises by modern standards because it also offers a wry, cynical dissection of how the showbiz machine works and how the savvy people who run it will create lousy "stars" just to keep their comfortable jobs. There's a very "meta" feel to the film, complete with real-life entertainment figures like Hedda Hopper and Ed Sullivan satirizing themselves, not to mention a unique ending that tweaks expectations in an ahead-of-its-time postmodern fashion. Lewis delivers the slapstick and the pathos in equal measure as an actor and also benefits from the confident support of an ace supporting cast that includes notables like Peter Lorre, Keenan Wynn and Everett Sloane. Among the support players, the scene stealers are Ina Balin as the quietly sensitive girl Friday who falls for the hero and Hans Conreid as a singing instructor who slowly unravels as he is forced to deal with Lewis. Finally, Lewis's direction is confident and inventive, making excellent use of color and motion to sell the gags and also weaving in unusual surprises like a flashback without dialogue that plays out as a poignant musical interlude. In short, The Patsy works both as a prime example of Jerry Lewis's many skills and also as an unexpectedly incisive satire of show business.