The boardroom sequence from The Errand Boy
(1961) is one of Jerry Lewis’s finest achievements and the video offered here is an effort to highlight some of the features that make it so special. When analysing a film scene, I often find it a useful exercise to import the sequence into iMovie and play with the footage, perhaps altering the soundtrack or cutting it differently. I find this hands-on approach helps me to get to know the sequence more intimately, to discover some of the myriad choices taken in its production and qualities that might otherwise escape notice. In the case of the Lewis routine (which I have written about briefly before1
, but wanted to revisit for a forthcoming book about sketch comedy), I found myself going over certain actions that Lewis performs to the Count Basie music, running them backwards and forwards in iMovie, marvelling at their precision. This also helped me realise the profound weirdness in this stream of expressions. Rewinding the sequence, so that Basie’s music becomes dissonant noise and the smoke from Jerry’s cigar is sucked in through his mouth and nostrils, in particular highlighted for me the disturbing undercurrent of Lewis’s caricature. I realised that his portrait of the egomaniacal executive is the sum total of all the personae we glimpse in passing: idiot, demon, guru, cynic, tyrant, child, lunatic, ape. The assembled video is an attempt to share that discovery. In its first half, the scene runs backwards, with some cycling back and forth on gestures that exemplify the density of Lewis’s craft. The second half shows the sequence as it should run, because there is no improving on perfection.