The title's eponymous professor is Julius F. Kelp (Lewis), a shy, bumbling chemistry teacher who has a mad crush on his student Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). When he tires of being made fun of, Kelp develops a magic potion that turns him into smooth and smarmy nightclub singer Buddy Love. Stella is drawn to Buddy but unfortunately, the potion's formula is unstable and Buddy keeps slipping back into Julius at the most embarrassing moments. In the end the professor's ploy is revealed, but not before he delivers a speech calling for everyone to learn to love themselves first before others can return the favor. Stella realizes she loves him for who he is and, needless to say, the ending is a happy one.
Considering what a big star he was, and for how long, Jerry Lewis' film career, both with partner Dean Martin and solo, is deserving of a reappraisal. It's been over three decades since the last project he wrote and directed, 'Cracking Up', but since then, he is better known for hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethons and as part of a joke to dismiss the French because they "get" him.
Yet, he must have made an impact, because even today you can still see people like Jon Stewart imitating him, and The Simpsons' recurring character Professor Frink modeled after his Professor Kelp character from what is arguably Lewis' best-known film, 'The Nutty Professor', which would be remade by Eddie Murphy in 1996.
A great way to start that appraisal is with 'The Nutty Professor': Ultimate Collector's Edition. In addition to the main feature on Blu-ray, it includes 'Cinderfella' starring Lewis as the title character in this adaptation of the classic fairy tale written and directed by Frank Tashlin as well as 'The Errand Boy,' again starring Lewis as the title character in a spoof of a Hollywood studio co-written by Lewis and Bill Richmond and directed by Lewis, both on DVD.
'The Nutty Professor' is Lewis' take on Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', which has been adapted for the silver screen numerous times. Professor Kelp is a bumbling chemistry professor, and shortly after the credits he causes an explosion in his class, luckily not hurting any of the college students, although they all look much older. He wears thick glasses, has buckteeth, and is shy to the point he almost swallows his words. He becomes infatuated with his student Stella (Stella Stevens), and it's easy to see why because she is gorgeous.
In order to approach Stella he creates a formula that turns him into a monster. Not the hideous creature shown during the transformation scene, but one even uglier on the inside, Buddy Love, a sharp-dressed, arrogant s.o.b. He first appears at the kids' local hang-out, Purple Pit, acting obnoxious towards the bartender and others, but demonstrating an ability to sing and play piano, which impresses everyone. Stella seems to not care for his act yet becomes captivated by him. She's not alone, which was hard to figure out. Buddy behaves rudely to everyone, even the dean who wants to meet him before allowing him to play the big dance and even though Buddy humiliates the man in a silly scene, the dean still allows him to play.
Lewis has a lot of funny gags in the picture and his influence from the great silent comedians is obvious in the scenes where he's at the bowling alley without his glasses and while lifting weights at the gym. He also plays with sound to humorous effect as heard in bits involving squeaking shoes and Kelp recovering from a hangover.
What is the most surprising is the heartfelt message once Kelp's ruse is found out. Ashamed at having tricked people and treated them poorly, the character speaks and states directly to the audience, both in the gym and watching the film, “You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you are gonna have to spend with you,” and “if you don't think too much of yourself, how do you expect others to?” Unfortunately, the film's epilogue undercuts that entire message when his father shows up selling bottles of the transformative potion and all the students are hot to buy it. The laughs gotten during this final segment aren't worth what the film's story loses because of them.
Regardless of the lost dramatic potential, 'The Nutty Professor' offers many laughs, which is what people look for in a comedy. It's easy to see why this is considered a classic.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Nutty Professor': Ultimate Collector's Edition contains 'The Nutty Professor': 50th Anniversary Blu-ray on a Region A, 50GB disc; DVDs of the musical comedy 'Cinderfella', and the comedy 'The Errand Boy'; and a Phoney Phone Calls CD, which finds Lewis tormenting real people in 12 calls recorded from 1959-1972. There is also a storyboard book; a cutting script with Lewis' notes; "Instruction Book For... "Being a Person" or (Just Feeling Better)" by Lewis, which he wrote for the crew; and a personal message from Jerry Lewis.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. Right from the opening credits, the colors are shown to be bright and vibrant and many hues across the spectrum. Purples and pinks standout in the Purple Pit. Blacks are inky and contribute to the strong contrast.
Dissolve transitions are seamless and don't lose focus as has been an issue on other discs. Film grain is light, but becomes magnified during an optical zoom. One can be seen when Buddy first appears on film.
The image offers fine details. The grain in Dr Warfield's door is apparent, as are the textures of the costumes created by legendary costumer Edith Head. Depth is deep within frames. A great example is the bowling alley scene. Focus is frequently sharp.
Contradicting the praise for the video quality are single shots of Stella that use a soft focus, which was the style for the time. There's a strange shot at end of chapter four when image gets diffused, possibly with light, while Stella talks. It only happens during this one scene so I presume it was intended, but it's jarring.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital Mono. On the 5.1 track, Walter Scharf's score sounds great right from the start. The orchestra sounds vibrant and the instruments are discernible.
However, once the dialogue and effects start up, the music doesn’t blend well because it sounds like it was recorded today and as if it was mixed louder. This is most noticeable during when Buddy sings because his pre-recorded vocals sound hollow.
The dialogue is clear and understandable. The effects come through clear and are impressive during the sound gags, such as when where everything is accentuated because of Kelp's hangover.
During the transformation scene. The thumping heart is augmented by the subwoofer as are the explosions. There is some minor ambiance from the Purple Pit and the dance, but the surrounds are mainly used for music.
For fans or those curious about Jerry Lewis, I highly recommend 'The Nutty Professor': Ultimate Collector's Edition. The film is enjoyable and the Blu-ray offers great video and very good audio. Plus, the set has enough extras to create a triple feature. Highly recommended.