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Monday, November 24, 2014

Martin & Lewis Collection V1 & V2 DVD: Classic Comedy for the Holidays

Martin & Lewis Collection Vol. 1 Martin & Lewis Collection Vol 2Warner Archive outdoes itself in releasing the "Martin and Lewis Collection" Volumes One and Two in time to order these great sets of classic films for the holidays. The cinephiles (and French people) on your list would love to find either or both sets under their trees, in their stockings, or wherever else you place your gifts.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of newsreel footage of Martin and Lewis is a fun way to build on the excitement related to these DVD releases.

Each volume has great cover art in the style of the wonderful caricatures that Al Hirschfeld used to draw for The New Yorker. Volume One includes "My Friend Irma," which is the first film in which Martin and Lewis appear as a team; the Volume Two collection includes "Hollywood or Bust," which is the last film pairing of the dynamic duo.

The films in the four-disc Volume One set are:

"My Friend Irma"
"My Friend Irma Goes West"
"That's My Boy"
"Sailor Beware"
"Jumping Jacks"
"The Stooge"
"Scared Stiff"
"The Caddy"

The flicks in the three-disc Volume Two set are:

"Hollywood or Bust"
"Living it Up"
"You're Never Too Young"
"Artists and Models"

Although comparing Martin and Lewis to Joanie and Chachi from the '70s sitcom "Happy Days" validly seems sacriligious, the common principle is that both comedy duos tanked when their mutual affection disappeared. The former did their best when they were close in real life, and it well known that America's sweethearts of the '80s tanked after Joanie no longer loved Chachi in real life.

The 1949 film "My Friend Irma," in which Martin and Lewis have supporting roles, is one of their best efforts because they are a true team then and do the schtick that America knows and loves.

This offering, which is based on the radio show of the same name, has the titular dim-witted Gracie Allen type blonde and her more level-headed roommate Jane getting wrapped up in shenanigans related to Irma's huckster-minded five-year fiance getting the music career of Dean's character Steve off the ground.

This concept provides plenty of chances for Martin and Lewis to engage in their trademark act of having the latter interrupt and overall create chaos during a singing performance of the former. A prophetic element comes in the form of Lewis' Seymour getting upset when Al tries to push him out of the act.

The whole gang returns a year later in "My Friend Irma Goes West." This "road" movie has the group traveling to Las Vegas related to the pursuit of stardom by Steve.

Early signs of the subsequent split of Martin and Lewis in "West" include Lewis doing solo bits that includes an amusing scene with a monkey and a politically incorrect segment that has him selling Indian blankets.

Moving forward to the latter years in the partnership, "You're Never Too Young" from 1955 has Lewis' Wilbur and Martin's Bob meeting at the hotel barbershop where Martin is a guest and Lewis is a bumbling barber apprentice; the pair reunites at the private girls' school where Bob teaches and Wilbur is temporarily stuck.

One sit that provide the com in this one is that a jewel thief and murderer, played by Perry Mason himself Raymond Burr, has passed a valuable stolen gem onto Wilbur and subsequently tries to track him down to recover that item. A related "wacky element" is that Wilbur is now masquerading as an 11-year-old boy in a context that makes sense.

Other humor comes from the fact that the other characters accept the relatively hirsute Lewis as a prepubescent child.

A nice element of this film from this era in which Martin no longer loves Lewis is that it includes a few scenes in which the pair engage in their trademark antics regarding Lewis disrupting a musical performance of Martin.

The fellow 1955 Martin and Lewis film "Artists and Models" go back to the roots of the duo. For  this reason and those stated below, this offering is a little stronger than "Young."

They are boyhood friends from Steubenville, Ohio (which is the real-life hometown of Martin) who now live in Greenwich Village and are pursuing their respective careers. Martin's Rick wants to be a professional artist, and Lewis' Eugene aspires to write children's books.

The wacky incidents in this film get the boys paired up with the female comic book artist and her roommate/model (played by a very young Shirley MacLaine) in the apartment above theirs. The dynamic among that quartet is very similar to that between Martin and Lewis and their "Irma" co-stars.

This one gets way out of hand, including Cold War antics that involve a spy played by Eva Gabor.

Intentional highlights of "Artists" include a terrific and hilarious duet between MacLaine and Lewis and a grand musical finale in the film. An unintentional highlight has MacLaine's character having the same strong interest in astrology for which her portrayor becomes ridiculed in the '80s.

The aforementioned "Hollywood" from 1956 came out after the pair split and had mixed elements of their earlier films. Their character meet during the film, unite for a long trip to Hollywood (with a diversion to Las Vegas) and squabble along the way.

Although "Hollywood" has the elements of an enjoyable Martin and Lewis romp, it seems that the pair would have been better off if they had called it quits after "Artists."

Although one can debate the individual merits of the pair, no doubt remains that the Warner collection is the most comprehensive one out there or that the films are masterfully restored. As Lewis fans would state "vive la difference."

Further, this always at least entertaining pair make movies that the entire family can watch and enjoy together.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding this collection is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.