Jerry Lewis comedies playing at the Latchis

BRATTLEBORO — Latchis Arts salutes the life and comedic legacy of the late Jerry Lewis with screenings of two films representing different aspects and eras of his career.

On Saturday, Sept. 16, at 4 p.m., Latchis Arts will present "The King of Comedy," the dark 1982 film which in many ways marked Lewis' comeback after a period of setbacks. On Sunday, at 4 p.m., the Latchis will show "The Bellhop," a hilarious, 1960 slapstick comedy that shows Lewis at the height of his powers. Admission to both films will be by donation, and proceeds will be shared between Latchis Arts and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the cause which Lewis poured his heart and soul into for decades, ultimately raising more than $2 billion through telethons and other efforts.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, "The King of Comedy" stars Robert DeNiro as an inspiring comedian who strives to achieve success in show business by stalking his idol, a late night talk show host played by Lewis. Earning mixed reviews at the time of its release, the film has grown in stature and relevance. Philip Horne of the UK Daily Telegraph called it, "A disturbing picture of a world in which television is taken for a `reality' higher than everyday life." Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing said, "This jet black comedy is a symphony of unease."

Though known to millions thanks to the annual Labor Day Weekend telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Lewis was in a personal and professional slump at the time "The King of Comedy" was released. The success of the film restored his stature, and Lewis was praised for the depth and brilliance of his acting, not for the comic pratfalls for which he was known.

By contrast, "The Bellhop" is 100 percent pure, unadulterated slapstick. In this 1960 comedy, which marked his debut as a director, writer and producer, as well as actor, Lewis plays a mistake-prone bellboy at a posh Miami hotel. He speaks no dialogue as he careens through a silly stream of scenarios.

Critics have hailed "The Bellhop" as, "Nothing less than a masterpiece," and, "One of the funniest all-time comedies," and, "Jerry at his rawest and most creative."

In his life, Lewis was a complex and polarizing figure who could be as contemptuous and cantankerous and he was beloved and brilliant. With his death on Aug. 20, at the age of 91, Latchis Arts will honor the talented performer and humanitarian he was through the screenings of these two films.

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