Jerry Lewis as The Jazz Singer (1959) DVD Review: Jerry Sings? Oy Vey!

Yes, you read that right: Jerry Lewis as The Jazz Singer. As if the 1980 musical version of Samson Raphaelson’s famous play with Neil Diamond wasn’t enough to have you rushing to the supermarket to buy a pound of bacon, you have to wonder what it’ll be like with Jerry Lewis in the starring role. One glance at the title alone makes you wonder if it isn’t some kind of parody as opposed to a being a bona fide “serious” offering — and anyone who has ever witnessed Martin Short’s excellent lampooning of Mr. Lewis will immediately wonder if this isn’t some sort of long-lost SCTV skit that’s just finding its way to DVD.

Alas, it is not a gift from the folks at Second City Television — although it has been lost for a several decades!

In 1959, seven years after Danny Thomas made his theatrical version of The Jazz Singer (which itself was released twenty-five years after the Al Jolson picture; I figured I’d throw in a lot of numbers at the beginning of that sentence to confuse you — it’s fun!), Jerry Lewis was at the beginning of his post-Dean Martin solo career. But prior to most of those big studio comedies he is so well known for, he made this strange little hour-long television oddity for NBC’s Startime variety program. It only aired once before finding a home in the annals of obscurity, but has recently resurfaced via a raiding of Jerry’s personal vaults by Inception Media Group.

Though it appears to have been filmed live, it wasn’t. However, the lack of any audience reaction save for the occasional cough or poorly-timed coincidental chuckle from crewmembers whom Lewis surely had fired shortly thereafter enables this version of The Jazz Singer to be filed under “surreal.” In fact, Jerry’s onstage jokes and singing (oy, vey!) are so peculiar in the fact that they’re not all that good, that it does seem like an SCTV skit at times. Amusingly enough, the title is a bit of a misnomer, as Lewis doesn’t sing jazz as much as he croons a lounge song or two. Actually, he tells jokes (for better of for worse) more than anything.

Co-starring in this anomalous rarity are Del Moore as Jerry’s manager, Anna Maria Alberghetti as the famous TV singer who wants to hire Lewis for her program for some reason, Eduard Franz as Lewis’ old estranged Cantor father, Alan Reed (the voice of Fred Flintstone) as Jerry’s uncle, Molly Picon as Lewis’ mum, Barry Gordon as the younger brother, and Joey Faye as Alberghetti’s producer. Inception presents the movie in both its original color version (mastered from a 2-inch videotape) as well as the poorer-quality black-and-white kinescope version (culled from a 16mm source). Also included are a behind-the-scenes gallery and featurette with Chris Lewis (Jerry’s son), who discusses the restoration process that was used to make this forgotten gem to home video.

In short: this is a genuine prize for any Lewis lover.

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Luigi Bastardo

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