Mill Creek Entertainment has released a Jerry Lewis triple feature consisting of "3 on a Couch" (1966), "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1968) and "Hook, Line and Sinker" (1969). The films represent a mixed bag as Lewis entered middle age and tried to blend a more mature screen presence with his traditional persona of a lovable goofball.
"3 on a Couch" is leaden farce directed by Lewis, that presents him as Christopher Pride, an aspiring artist who wins a contest sponsored by the French government that will afford him to spend a month in Paris to contribute to a high profile project that could greatly enhance his career. Christopher is understandably over the moon about the prospect and shares the good news with his fiancee, Elizabeth (Janet Leigh), who he wants to join him on the trip. However, Elizabeth has a problem: she is a psychiatrist who is overseeing three emotionally vulnerable young women who are trying to cope with romantic relationships that have ended in heartbreak for them. They are completely dependent on her to cure them of their fear and loathing of men and Elizabeth can't justify taking off for a month because they have become so dependent upon her as both a mother figure and a confidant. Frustrated, Christopher devises an outlandish strategy in conjunction with his best friend Ben (James Best). He decides to adopt disguises as three different men, each of whom will attempt to woo one of the vulnerable young women and therefore restore their faith in the male of the species, thus allowing them to sever the ties to Elizabeth's therapy sessions. If you think it sounds absurd, wait until you see it all play out on screen. Christopher's alter egos consist of a fitness fanatic who will appeal to one of the patients who jogs and works out non-stop. Another is Ringo, a Texan who wears a ten-gallon hat and who perpetually chews on an unlit cigar while acting like a case of arrested development. The third persona is a fey, Truman Capote-type who lives with his protective sister (which also affords Lewis to play that role in drag.) The preposterous scenario doesn't hold up for a second, especially when each of the young women falls head over heels for these zany types, including the guy who appears to be gay. Go figure. The farce allows Lewis to indulge in his obsession with playing roles in various over-the-top disguises, none of which are the slightest bit amusing. The sight of Lewis in drag trying to shimmy out of stockings and corset is more disturbing than funny. The climax finds Christopher and Elizabeth being feted at a bon voyage party in her office as they prepare to sail for Paris. Predictably, all three young women decide to show up to see Elizabeth off, which ensures that Lewis has to frantically keep switching disguises to interact with each "girlfriend" so they don't catch on the ruse. The scene is ridiculous on several levels, the most obvious being that hundreds of people seem to be able to miraculously fit into this tiny office space. Lewis seems to have been inspired by the famed stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera" but despite the frantic goings-on, the whole shebang falls flat as a pancake. Lewis plays it straight when in the role of the artist but chews the scenery mercilessly as the alter-egos. Likewise, James Best, who Lewis directs as though he is also on steroids. The three young women- Gila Golan, Leslie Parrish and Mary Ann Mobley- are reduced to air-headed females who define their entire lives by finding the right man. Only Janet Leigh retains her dignity and seems to be acting in a completely different film. The whole enterprise is excruciating throughout.
"Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" seems to afford more promise. For one, it's based on a source novel by Max Wilk, who also wrote the screenplay. The film was also shot in England, which gives a Lewis production a refreshing change of pace. The movie's highlight is its opening credits sequence in which a nattily-clad Lewis jauntily walks through the streets of London, thus affording some good views of the city while a sappy title song unspools. Lewis plays George Lester, a self-made rich guy, who encounters a pretty young woman during his walk. She's Pamela (Jacqueline Pearce), who is quickly wooed by George and ends up marrying him. We then see a montage of what married life is like for her as George squanders his money taking them to exotic locations around the world in hare-brained schemes designed to develop new products that ultimately end in failure. Pamela decides to file for divorce, claiming that George's obsession with his business has left her feeling lonely and neglected. She's also being wooed by her divorce attorney, Dudley (Nicholas Parsons), a swanky, Savile Row-type who wants to succeed George as her next husband. Distraught, George decides to please his wife and win her back by converting their beloved country manor house to a combination Chinese restaurant and swinging discotheque. She is appalled, even though the place becomes a sensation and allows George to earn some much-needed money. The rest of the film centers on George's frantic and incredible strategies to win back Pamela and thwart his rival Dudley at the same time. Suffice it to say that Lewis once again gets to dress in outrageous disguises but, as in "3 on a Couch", none are amusing. The promising pairing of Lewis with Terry-Thomas as a con man he enlists in his scheme also falls flat as the plot meanders and plays out boringly under the leaden direction of Jerry Paris, who fared far better as a sitcom director. The only bright spots are a fine performance by Jacqueline Pearce and the occasional appearances of two of England's best comedic actors, Bernard Cribbins and Patricia Routledge. "Goldfinger" beauty Margaret Nolan appears as a dental assistant but is given nothing funny or memorable to do.