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Hook, Line and Sinker (1969)

Director George Marshall directed films ranging from classics like Destry Rides Again to The Blue Dahlia to The Railroad segment of How The West Was Won would end his movie directing career with this later day Jerry Lewis/Peter Lawford comedy. Lewis and Marshall go back to Jerry’s early days with Dino. Marshall had directed the comedy duos first film My Friend Irma in 1949. Serving as producer and having directed himself eight times previously it’s hard to resist thinking Jerry didn’t have a hand in guiding the camera this time either.

Jerry is going to tell us this tale in flashback from a hospital’s operating room where a surgeon and an audience of medical students seem to be more interested in his story then of the ailment that he is suffering from. A gag in itself that I won’t reveal here but will let you know that you’ll have to wait out the films 91 minute running time to discover it for yourself. Jerry’s a happily married man with Anne Francis co-starring as his attractive wife, two kids and a big dog named Sam. Your perfect ordinary everyday all American family of the era. On the surface that is……

Jerry works hard all day long at the office five days a week but when the weekend comes it’s time to take care of the “honey do” list which leads to various pranks and pratfalls including a brief bit where Jerry battles a gopher in the garden long before Bill Murray went to war against one in Caddyshack. When Saturday night rolls around the sitter takes over watching the kids and thankfully it’s a member of Jerry’s stock company, Kathleen Freeman, making a couple of brief appearances.

No sex for Jerry on Saturday night and time to tighten the strings on the family budget. No more fishing trips for poor Jerry but keep signing those monthly checks to cover the life insurance policy in case he were to kick the bucket. And by the way, you have your yearly physical in the morning Jerry.

Enter his best buddy Dr. Lawford who breaks the news to Jerry that his ticker could go at anytime. Not wanting to be selfish, Anne suggests Jerry go on an around the world fishing trip and rack up the credit cards. They won’t be able to collect anyway once he passes on. Jerry’s off to Acapulco, Brazil, Jamaica and Portugal chasing bikinis, dancing the limbo and catching sailfish when they take the bait. Truthfully with the amount of booze he’s downing, he’ll die of alcohol poisoning long before his ticker conks out. The trip and the boozing gives Jerry plenty of opportunities to mug for the camera still eliciting a few laughs from yours truly years after growing up watching Jerry movies whenever they appeared on TV. They do make for a nostalgic revisit.

But what would happen if Peter turns up in Lisbon to tell Jerry his heart monitoring machine at the office got it wrong and he’s in perfectly good health? That’s just what happens so the two must plot how to get Jerry out of his predicament of running a tab nearing 100K on credit. Why not fake his death. Get a John Doe from the morgue and have Dr. Peter sign off on it. Sounds easy enough but there’s one major twist that Jerry didn’t see coming for the final act.

This proved to be a relatively minor effort in Lewis’ career as he neared leaving the screen for the better part of a decade following 1970’s Which Way to the Front. Assuming we don’t count the still to be released The Day The Clown Cried. Before stepping away from the movie world, Jerry would also direct pals Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. in 1970’s One More Time.

There is one particular segment in the film where Anne is moving about the kitchen and house with a Coors in her hand. The label wisely facing the camera. An early version of the product placement in feature films I guess. I also had to do a bit of research on the 1941 film, They Dare Not Love. When babysitter Freeman comes over and thoroughly ignores the children, she sits down to watch the classic flick on Jerry’s TV. The television announcer introduces the film with the standard, ‘Up next They Dare Not Love starring George Brent and Roddy McDowall.” Roddy???? I had to double check that and no sir. According to the IMDB child actor Roddy is nowhere in sight. On the other hand I could have sworn the corpse that Lawford secures had a very Scatman Crothers look to it. Damnd if it wasn’t the man with that wonderful grin after all. No grin this time but his appearance proves to be one the film’s best gags towards the end.

Hook, Line and Sinker isn’t exactly a flick I see play that often on TV so it was a bonus to see it turn up in a collection of three Lewis films on DVD from Mill Creek. No the poster doesn’t come with it but drop by if you’d like to get a better look at it.

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