Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the biggest comedy team of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Their unique blend of Lewis’ off-the-wall antics and Martin’s smooth voice and dashing good looks made for an entertaining combination. The story of their rise to the top is brought to the small screen this Sunday night as “Martin and Lewis” makes its appearance on CBS for a two-hour journey through the lives of these two performing icons.
Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) portrays Jerry Lewis, the zany, desperate-for attention comic with no microphone skills who is trying to make it big in Buffalo. His act of pantomiming an orchestra and an endless array of outrageous facial expressions grows old quickly and he desperately needs a partner. In addition, he’s vying for the attention and praise of his father, Danny, who’s also an entertainer. Through all of this, he meets Dean Martin (Jeremy Northam, “Gosford Park”), a suave New York City nightclub singer who always carries with him an aura of self-confidence and a curled upper lip a la Elvis Presley. Lewis’s constant interruptions of Martin’s swooning ballads and the resulting banter between the two men lead to the creation of a team, with Martin as the obvious straight man.
The rest of the movie chronicles their rapid ascent to stardom, which is all complicated with mistresses, movie careers, inflated egos, and dissention between the two men. Lewis is jealous of Martin’s talent and fakes a stomach pain to get attention and eventually steals Martin’s lines. Martin’s wife threatens to leave him because of his mistress and he doesn’t appreciate getting second billing, either. The end result is a fallout on stage, completely oblivious to the audience, who all thinks it’s “part of the act”. Eventually, the stress of fame becomes too large, and the two split up, but not after one last tense performance.
The production of the two-hour movie is solid, as John Gray (“Brian’s Song”) directs the tale well, as he has a little help from John Stamos (of Rebecca Romijn and “Full House” non-fame) as an executive producer. They do a solid job of capturing the 1940s feel with big band music, cigar-toting men in leisure suits, and attractive women in conservative dress. The movie posters of the many Martin and Lewis flicks also provide a nice transition between scenes. A blurred shot of an injured Lewis being carried off on a gurney and repetitive shots of fake audience laughter are a little too overplayed, but overall, the men behind the camera do a fine job.
This is not just a movie for your grandparents to watch. Young viewers will grow attached to Lewis, who brings out the little kid in all of us, and feel sorry for his struggles. Everyone will appreciate Martin’s larger-than-life image and adore his tolerance for Lewis. This movie gives the viewer a chance to see the men for who they are, instead of “the celebrity roast guy” and “the telethon guy.” That is a credit in itself.