Comedian Jerry Lewis puts a fantastic spin on the classic Cinderella fairy tale in his 1960 star-studded extravaganza "Cinderfella." Yet for this reporter the movie does not shine as well as Lewis' other creations such as "The Nutty Professor."
In fact it is hard not to compare Cinderfella to Lewis' other work, like "Nutty Professor" and so on. What starts off to be a unique and very lively contemporary spin on the French fairy-tale classic misses a few steps and falls short of the really outstanding work it might have been.
First of all it is filled with lots of Lewis' charm and outstanding comedic talent. Yet the story line and the script while it too starts off with great vigor, misses out on something and falls apart. That mix up with the script leaves the story sweet, charming but lacking the sparkle that all the effort, sets and designs would guarantee it to be.
Like all of Lewis's films, especially ones he did on his own, they are outstanding pieces of work. Colorful, lively, well-executed and of course with a wonderful supporting cast.
Yet the script gets choppy when it tries to say too much and let says too little. For example, Lewis' in both dialog and in song (for this is also a bit of a nice musical too), talks about the distinction between "people and persons." A very good thing to say in a script.
His step-mother and step-brothers somehow have the better distinction of being persons as in Very Important Persons and yet he is not. The Cinderella format by itself upholds some of this but the script and the way it is presented does not give it the full understanding of Lewis' contemporary spin.
Legendary stars such as Ed Winn provide a glimpse into what the story line was trying to say, but the monologues and long-winded songs in some spots lost the sparkle. Also, Lewis' antics while clever and high-spirited don't serve the story enough and the meaning of the contemporary script and so the best opportunities for an enduring classic like "Nutty Professor" are lost.
Also, Lewis does not clarify who he is really playing when he is transformed into the handsome "prince-like" guest at the ball, hosted by his step-mother, played by Judith Anderson of "The Ten Commandments" fame, among other great films to her credit.
Lewis at first seems like "Buddy Love" but acts like a nut. The "Buddy Love" type of transformation worked for a moment. But when Lewis kept acting nutty, it seemed it would have been best to stay as a more suave but sweeter side of Buddy Love than to act goofy.
His dance routine is flawless yes, but how did it serve the script and the story line? The ability to present a softer and more genuinely gentleman side of a Buddy Love character was tossed in favor of the over-done antics. Here again the opportunity for Lewis to uphold the script and make it shine while still throwing in his comic antics are lost.
When listening to the director's commentary on the "features" menu of the DVD, Lewis explains in effect that he did not get to release the movie as he wanted to. Apparently, there was some complications. He originally intended to have the movie in theaters in time for the Christmas season since he considered the work a movie perfect for kids.
Yes, one can see that it has all the stuff kids who go to the movies would like, such as magic, special effects and lots of upbeat antics. But, here again, some of the best elements of the script get messy, dialogues and monologues a bit too long. And, one of the best parts of the basic Cinderella story line is missing.
And that is the magic of the transformation of Cinderfella into a dashing prince-like man to greet the lovely "Princess Charming" played by Anna Maria Alberghette. She is stunning in every scene and once again, we see Lewis' impeccable understanding of cinematic craftsmanship.
Costumes and attire were designed by the legendary Edith Head, music was also well done. Lewis had a tremendous love for great music and for the this movie he has Count Basie and his orchestra. How's that for a classic! Lewis never missed a beat on music that is certain.
Alberghette is reminiscent of icons like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and Grace Kelly who married into royalty leaving behind her movie career. In 1960 when this movie appeared the comparisons would have been even more compelling. And 50 years later that still holds up.
But the deeper meaning of the charm of the script and the better use of the magic are lost. We do not get to see Lewis changed into the handsome prince like fellow. He simple just shows up at the ball and goes into his comedic antics.
Nor do we get to see much of the outstanding magnificent coach, his wild gold Cadillac convertible. We only see a brief sequence lasting only 20 seconds as he runs off at the stroke of Midnight. And, that is not enough. Instead, much of the time was put into a choppy song with a monologue and then dialog between him and his Fairy Godfather played by Winn.
It should have been followed up with the transformation scene. Audiences no doubt would have loved to have seen Fella's bicycle turned into that fabulous car or his pet gold fish turned into the chauffeur to drive him to the ball. But unfortunately, that is missing.
Still for production value and for avid fans of Jerry Lewis, "Cinderfella" remains a testimony to his great talent. Not only is Lewis a great comedian, he is also a great actor performer and move-maker.