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Chris Hicks: Funny gags abound in 10 newly released Jerry Lewis DVDs

The French must not be the only ones who love Jerry Lewis. How else do you explain nine of his movies debuting on DVD this week, along with a special-edition reissue?

Only one of the discs is a Martin & Lewis film, and the rest, listed here chronologically, are hit-and-miss choices representing Lewis' solo career from 1957 to 1965, but skipping over many of Lewis' better films — where are "Rock-a-Bye Baby," "The Geisha Boy," "Don't Give Up the Ship" or one that's never been on VHS either, "Visit to a Small Planet"?

More important, why is there only one Martin & Lewis picture, "The Stooge"? This one is far from their best, though it does have the duo doing a few onstage bits cribbed from their nightclub act. (Since the film is labeled "The Martin & Lewis Collection," we can assume more will be forthcoming.)

Despite such quibbling, there are some good choices here, including a "special-edition" reissue of the film many feel is Lewis' best, "The Nutty Professor," as well as his first solo film, "The Delicate Delinquent," and his first directing effort, "The Bellboy."

Lewis fans will also go nuts over the bonus features on some titles, "archival materials" that include outtakes, deleted scenes, rehearsal footage, promo spots, Lewis' personal on-the-road footage, etc. And "The Nutty Professor" includes a half-hour featurette about Lewis' solo career.

Lewis even does some audio commentaries, though the anecdotes and informative comments are few and far between. And he's got his old buddy singer Steve Lawrence beside him on the audio tracks to laugh at the films and tell Lewis what a genius he is.

"The Stooge" (Paramount, 1953, not rated, b/w, $14.99). This one has Dean Martin playing a singer who's a self-centered jerk, and when he hires Lewis as part of his act, Martin continues to take all the credit and most of the money. (At one point Lewis repeatedly yells, "Lady!" — just like Martin Short's impersonation.)

Extras: Full frame, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Delicate Delinquent" (Paramount, 1957, not rated, b/w, $14.99). This was to be a Martin & Lewis vehicle, but then the team broke up. Darren McGavin takes the Martin role, as a cop who helps delinquent Lewis get into the police academy. Some funny routines.

Extras: Widescreen, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Bellboy" (Paramount, 1960, not rated, b/w, $14.99). There's no story in this series of slapstick skits, in which Lewis' character doesn't speak (until the final scene). Some hilarious gags in an old-fashioned silent-movie manner. Filmed on location at a luxurious Miami hotel.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"Cinderfella" (Paramount, 1960, not rated, $14.99). Lewis' colorful reworking of the classic fairy tale has some good gags and a great cast, though it gets bogged down in sentimentality toward the end.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Ladies Man" (Paramount. 1961, not rated, $14.99). One of Lewis' funnier films has him as a houseboy in a girls' school.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Errand Boy" (Paramount, 1961, not rated, b/w, $14.99). This one has Lewis wreaking havoc in a movie studio, again with some very funny gags.

Extras: Widescreen, select-scene audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Nutty Professor: Special Edition" (Paramount, 1963, not rated, $14.99). You either love this one or you don't, but the film is wildly inventive and has some hysterical gags, and Stella Stevens brightens up the proceedings. (On the bonus features the long-held theory that Prof. Kelp's alter ego was supposed to skewer Dean Martin is debunked.)

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), making-of featurettes, archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Patsy" (Paramount, 1964, not rated $14.99). The supporting cast is a wow — Peter Lorre, Keenan Wynn, John Carradine, Everett Sloane, Ina Balin — but this reworking of both "The Bellboy" and "The Errand Boy," by way of "Pygmalion," is way too sappy and sentimental, despite some very funny sight gags.

Extras: Widescreen, select-scene audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Disorderly Orderly" (Paramount, 1964, not rated $14.99). Some funny stuff livens up this farce with Lewis driving everyone crazy in a hospital, with the assistance of Susan Oliver and Lewis' stock company of character actors.

Extras: Widescreen, archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"The Family Jewels" (Paramount, 1965, not rated, b/w, $14.99). Lewis tries to make like Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers by playing multiple roles — seven! And all of them are familiar Lewis characterizations in this sentimental yarn about a poor little rich girl investigating her uncles as potential guardians.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (Lewis and Steve Lawrence), archival materials, trailer, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com