The word "restrained" doesn't often fit into analysis of Jerry Lewis' film career, but in Hook, Line and Sinker, a 1969 black comedy, the legendary funnyman is indeed restrained, as least in comparison to most of the characters he played. The film is an unusual entry from this period of Lewis' film work in that he did not direct the movie. Instead, George Marshall, an old hand at helming diverse films, took on that responsibility. There isn't much discernible difference in the end result and one could easily be forgiven if they were to assume that Lewis directed. He plays Peter Ingersoll, a typical middle class suburbanite who is living the American dream. He has a boring but steady 9 to 5 job as an insurance salesman, a pretty wife (Anne Francis), two polite children, a comfortable home and a devoted best friend, Scott Carter (Peter Lawford), who also happens to be his personal physician. The only consternation in the household is wife Nancy's concern about Peter's costly and self-indulgent hobby of deep sea fishing. Peter's mundane but comfortable existence comes to an abrupt end when Dr. Carter gives him the stunning news that a recent medical check-up has confirmed that he is terminally ill. Distraught and and depressed, Peter is stunned when Nancy suggests that he forsake his responsibilities as husband and father and enact an audacious plan whereby he will spend his last few months on a solo journey to exotic locations where he can spend his final days fishing. Nancy concocts a plot whereby the entire venture can be financed on credit cards that will never have to be paid. Additionally, his life insurance policy of $150,000 will ensure that his family can live in comfort (this was back in 1969, don't forget.) Peter is initially reluctant to engage in the scheme but he ultimately concedes. He ends up traveling to exotic locations as he wracks up enormous bills with carefree abandon. In Lisbon, he is shocked when Scott Carter appears unexpectedly with the news that an equipment malfunction on a medical device resulted in the wrong diagnosis. Peter isn't going to die, but has to pretend he has in order to escape prosecution for the monies owed to the credit card companies. Scott assures him that the statute of limitations last only seven years, after which he can reappear and resume his family life. By this point, the audience has long since figured out what Peter has to learn belatedly: that the entire plan has been an exercise in deceit on the part of Nancy and Scott. He discovers that the two are having an affair and that Nancy and his kids are in Lisbon, too, where they refer to his best friend as "Daddy Scott" even as their mother shares his bed. Emotionally devastated, Peter concocts a complex scheme of his own to exact revenge on his wife and friend.
Hook, Line and Sinker fares better than many of Lewis' late career big screen ventures in that the humor, characters and situations are more realistic and believable than those found in most Lewis films. The character of Peter is somewhat of a nerd and klutz but is far cry from the typical imbecile he usually portrays. Consequently, although he is dressed in a silly disguise when he discovers the deceit played upon him by those he trusts most, there is a certain genuine sadness that permeates the scene. The humor is also a bit more daring than usual, with the habitual abuse of corpses playing a central role in the plot. There are some over the top elements of the film, but for the most part it's a highly enjoyable, consistently amusing scenario well-played by an energized Lewis, who has a perfect foil in Lawford. It's really Lewis' show, however, with few memorable moments for supporting players other than Lewis perennial Kathleen Freeman, who makes a welcome appearance early in the film as the world's worst baby sitter. The actual on-location filming in Lisbon helps elevate the production values, even if the majority of the movie has clearly been shot in the studio. I'm a sucker for Jerry Lewis films, including this one, which remains one of his more successful efforts of the 1960s.
The Sony DVD is from the burn-to-order program. The transfer is top-notch but there are no extras. Sony should be a bit more generous in this area and provide at least a trailer.