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Hardly Working

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"Hardly Working" is one of the great non-experiences of my moviegoing life. I was absolutely stunned by the vast stupidity of this film. It was a test of patience and tolerance that a saint might not have passed--but I didn't walk out. I remained for every single last dismal wretched awful moment. I was keeping a pledge to myself.

Watching the "Today" show in a hotel room in Los Angeles, I saw Jerry Lewis being interviewed by Gene Shalit. Jerry was convinced that the critics had it in for him. He hinted, none too subtly, that the chances were Shalit would dislike the film when he saw it (Shalit claimed not to have seen it already, which was an excellent ploy). In "Variety" I'd read that the critics were barred from the Miami premiere of the film because, and I paraphrase, Jerry Lewis makes films for the masses and critics are unequipped to understand his appeal. Horse manure. "Hardly Working" is one of the worst movies ever to achieve commercial release in this country, and it is no wonder it was on the shelf for two years before it saw the light of day. It is not just a bad film, it is incompetent filmmaking.

Jerry Lewis, as director, has no sense of timing--and timing is the soul of comedy. He leaves people standing onscreen waiting for something to be said. He throws in random, odd pieces of comic business that are inexplicable and not funny. He has made his film into an educational experience: See it, and you will learn by default what competent film editing is.

The plot stars Jerry as a born loser who is fired from his job as a circus clown (and no wonder; the film's one clown sequence is not even remotely funny). He throws himself on the mercy of his sister and brother-in-law, and then tries his hand at a variety of jobs, including gas station attendant, before finally winding up with the U.S. Postal Service. The movie sets us up for several comic set pieces, none of which deliver. Example: Applying for a job at the gas station, Jerry sneaks up behind the owner, who is making a tall stack of oil cans. Jerry scares him, and the owner tips the cans over. Later, Jerry lets a customer's gas tank overflow. The owner, nearly finished rebuilding the stack, sees what Jerry is doing and so deliberately knocks over the stack again. Why? That is an excellent question to ask again and again during this movie.

Some scenes are totally inexplicable. These include a conversation Lewis has with himself in drag (it doesn't even use trick photography, just over-the-shoulder shots with stand-ins wearing wigs); a scene in which he waits for a very long time in a supervisor's office, to no avail; and several scenes in which he spills things on people. Once, a very long time ago, Jerry Lewis made me laugh. I was seven at the time. He still seems to be making movies for the same audience.

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