Visit to a Small Planet (1960)

While few would argue that Jerry Lewis's hefty filmography for Paramount back during the '50s and '60s amounts to great art, those movies are enduring curios of Cold War era American popular culture and often provide insight into human nature, warts and all. Lewis's most popular work might be his self-directed The Nutty Professor from 1963 (What'll it be, Hmmm?) and his performance in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy opposite Robert DeNiro. For me, his 1960 movie A Visit to a Small Planet has a more distinguished pedigree than most of his work, as it was based on a late '50s satirical Broadway play by Gore Vidal.  A thinly veiled send-up of American paranoia, Planet tells the story of a naive alien lad named Kreton who comes to Earth to study the ways of humans. He ends up staying with a typical suburban family and discovers, often by way of his mind-reading capabilities, that humans are not always what they appear to be. Lewis plays Kreton with his signature vaudevillian broadness and the film is not nearly as cynical as one might expect considering its connection to Vidal. It does represent for me a model of what made Lewis such a staple in American cinema -- it illustrated that we should treat each other better and laugh at ourselves as we do it. Something to keep in mind during the holidays, yes? Recommended.


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