Visit to a Small Planet (1960)
Long before producer Gary Marshall put Robin Williams squarely in front of television audiences as that alien from another planet paying us a visit in a weekly sitcom, comedic legend Jerry Lewis took on a similar role for a big screen adventure lasting all about 86 minutes in black and white that surrounded Jerry with a capable cast of character actors.
Somewhere “out there” the childish Jerry is running afoul of his outer space school teacher, John Williams. I swear William looks as if he just stepped out of the Plan 9 costume department subbing in for Bunny Breckinridge. Jerry’s obsessed with the planet Earth and the earthlings that inhabit it. Why not? We look just like him. Playing hooky from school, Jerry lands a tiny spaceship near the home of television news anchorman Fred Clark.
“Spacemen! There ain’t no such animal.”
With flying saucers the latest rage and multiple sightings being reported, Jerry’s arrival is about to upend Clark’s beliefs and his home life. Jerry believes he’s landed in the southern states at the height of the Civil War only to learn he’s missed by 99 years. So his showing up in a Southern General’s outfit may see untimely but thankfully there’s a masquerade ball in the making. Jerry will wind up sharing a funny scene with the cranky Fred ( wasn’t he always cranky ) where he convinces him that there are such things as men from space with the use of a little magic and suggestion that sees Fred play straight man to Jerry’s shenanigans. While he may have let Fred in on his secret identity, he’ll have to convince his teacher Williams who has tracked him down to allow him to stay on Earth and study it’s people and history.
Studying means mostly the mating habits of it’s younger generation. Turns out Clark has a daughter who isn’t exactly fending off the sexual advances of her boyfriend and would be hubby, Earl Holliman. Along with Clark, Jerry will let the young couple in on his true identity as well as Clark’s wife, Lee Patrick, and a nosey neighbor attempting to prove the existence of flying saucers, Gale Gordon. Of course every time Gordon or Clark go to announce Jerry’s existence to the media or the authorities they begin to quote the nursey rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb to great hilarity despite their efforts to tell what they know.
It’s no wonder Jerry wants to discover the joys of love making. He tells Miss Blackman, “We don’t tangle.” Apparently his advanced world has no need for it anymore. Kind of reminded me of Sandra Bullock’s story in Demolition Man leaving Sly Stallone baffled. Jerry will soon upset the hot headed Earl by asking if he can watch the next time they set out to “tangle.” Earl is course by this time getting rather jealous of the goofy spaceman who his gal is spending too much time fawning over and giving him a rundown of the local area and nightclubs where Barbara Lawson joins Jerry in a song and dance routine that’s out of this world. I had to do a quick check on Miss Lawson since she is featured in the credits with an “Introducing” card. Turns out she never appeared in another movie.
There are lessons to be taught before the fadeout and of course Jerry’s at the center of them in this story adapted from a Gore Vidal play and directed by Norman Taurog. By my count this was Taurog’s eighth and final film he directed Jerry Lewis in. Their first goes back to the days of Martin and Lewis on the 1951 comedy, The Stooge. Following this space comedy, Taurog would move on to helm a number of Elvis movies and take Miss Blackman along for Blue Hawaii.
Another pair of faces you’ll be sure to recall joining in the fun here with Jerry and company is Ellen Corby and Jerome Cowan. Both of whom had well over 200 acting credits apiece over long careers playing second and third fiddle to the leading players.
Tuning into this Lewis comedy for the first time in over twenty years thanks to a recent blu ray release via Kino Lorber, I was quite surprised at the frank talk of sex on camera. It’s at that point in cinema when things were about to change with the 1960’s rolling in. By the end of the decade movies would of course be allowing more than just the discussion of sex on camera. Lewis would find himself in another space comedy before the end of the decade in Way … Way Out along with Connie Stevens as a married couple spending one year on the moon with a couple of Russian Cosmonauts as neighbors. Again sex was a predominant theme.
Like most Lewis movies, they’re intended for the youngsters but then we’re only as old as we feel and hopefully you’re like me and still have a little child hidden beneath the adult exterior allowing Jerry and his sight gags to cause a smile or an outright laugh somewhere along his visit to our small planet.