Gregg Barson’s documentary, which was originally broadcast on Encore in 2011, offers an all-smiles tribute to the career of the zany funnyman. The film finds an 85-year-old Lewis performing in Las Vegas, where he mixes a watered down version of his trademark shtick with extended nostalgic recollections of his peak years, and it also follows him to the Cannes Film Festival for a confirmation of the French love affair with the comic.
A surplus number of classic Lewis moments from his 10-year partnership with Dean Martin and his classic solo films are included, and there is also a consideration of his work as a director – including insight into his creation of the video assist technology that became standard equipment in film production. A number of A-list Lewis fans – including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Carol Burnett and Eddie Murphy – also offer glowing praise.
However, the documentary goes overboard in accentuating the positive while completely eliminating the negative. There is no explanation of the circumstances that resulted in the Martin and Lewis break-up in 1956 or the subsequent years of icy silence between the former partners, nor is there consideration of Lewis’ intriguing flops, including his expensive 1963 TV variety show (which was cancelled after 13 episodes) and his still unfinished Holocaust drama “The Day the Clown Cried.”
Nonetheless, anyone who can still crack a laugh over the 50 millionth cry of “Hey, laaaady!” will appreciate this celebration of Lewis and his distinctive brand of comedy.