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The Disorderly Orderly

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The Disorderly Orderly (1964) starring Jerry Lewis, Susan Oliver, Karen Sharp, Del Moore
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The Disorderly Orderly (1964) starring Jerry LewisSusan Oliver, Karen Sharp, Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman

 In The Disorderly OrderlyJerry Lewis plays the part of Jerome Littlefield, a would-be medical student who has dropped out of school due to his extreme case of sympathy pains—whenever a patient discusses his or her symptoms, Jerome begins to feel the malady himself.  In addition, he finds himself pining for the girl that he fell in love with in college.  She doesn’t know that he exists (Susan Oliver).  To the distress of one of the nurses (Karen Sharp), who has fallen in love with Jerry Lewis’ character.

Frankly, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Jerry Lewis’ ”The Disorderly Orderly”.  I hadn’t seen the film in nearly 30 years and remembered very little about it.  It was not only funny, it tugged at the heartstrings in just the right amounts.  Not too much to become sappy, and not too much screen time to detract from the comedy.  It also features a very nice social satire in the context of a board room meeting, which was both funny and pointed.

Humor in The Disorderly Orderly

The comedy elements are laugh-out-loud funny; some of my favorites include Jerry Lewis’ attempt at collecting dirty laundry and putting it down a laundry shute—it sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Until Jerry Lewis tackles it, that is.  Another funny element is the recurring theme of Jerry’s character, Jerome Littlefield, being the only ‘sane’ character in a world that’s crazy.  For example, trying to fix a patient’s television that has snow—he unscrews the front of the screen, and a snowstorm floods the room.  Also, much of the humor is not only slapstick but visual; for example, in one scene Jerry Lewis has been put into a straight jacket.  He’s trying to crawl back into the building in order to get help—only to have a snail zoom past him.  Other excellent moments include

  • trying to eat spaghetti at an “ethnic” restaurant
  • taking a patient in a body cast outside for some fresh air
  • having a fight with his girlfriend in the “quiet” area of the hospital.

All of the supporting cast works very well, including Kathleen Freeman, who appears in many of Jerry Lewis’ films, this time as the antagonistic Nurse Higgins, who is being driven to the brink by Jerry Lewis’ character’s well-meaning attempts at hard work, that keep backfiring on the suffering Nurse Higgins.

The finale deserves special mention:  a chase scene reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon.  It hasn’t been surpassed or equaled since.  The finale alone is worth the price of admission, but the entire show is a gem.  I rate it 4 out of 5 clowns.

Editorial review of Jerry Lewis’ The Disorderly Orderly courtesy of

The hugely successful collaboration between Jerry Lewis and director Frank Tashlin (including Artists and Models and The Geisha Boy) came to an end with this knockabout hospital comedy, which contains a raft of Tashlin’s patented sight gags. Jerry plays an orderly with a strange fixation on a depressed patient (Susan Oliver), but the point of the movie is watching Lewis wrestle with laundry bags or contorting with agony as he empathizes with the intestinal maladies of patients.

This is one of Lewis’s funniest movies for babbling, too (“Oh, friction–burning”). Meanwhile, Tashlin brings his cartoon sensibility to freestanding bits, such as the montage of wind chimes that ends with a skeleton chattering in the breeze, or the inordinately loud crunch of an apple in a hospital quiet zone. All in all, a good laugh-per-minute ratio in the slapstick realm. Plus Sammy Davis Jr. sings the title song, a weirdly Rat Packish number. —Robert Horton

DVD features of The Disorderly Orderly starring and produced by Jerry Lewis

A small collection of outtakes includes a nice glimpse of Jerry Lewis playing pranks on his director, Frank Tashlin, while shooting a scene with a laundry cart–you can sense Lewis’s comic ingenuity as well as his urgent need to make people laugh. No commentary track. —Robert Horton

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