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Retro Cinema – Living It Up

Retro Cinema – Living It Up
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The comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were never at their best in films. Once they were in the studio and before the camera, the manic spontaneity and kinetic energy that fueled their stage and live television performances seemed to evaporate. It also didn’t help that many of their big screen ventures marginalized Martin’s contribution to the act.

“Living it Up” was probably the best of the Martin and Lewis films – or the least bad, depending on your view of the team’s output. The film came about it in a somewhat tortured manner: Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the Broadway musical “Hazel Flagg” – which was, itself, inspired by the 1937 screen classic “Nothing Sacred” – and switched the genders of the two central characters to accommodate Lewis as the key role played by Carole Lombard in “Nothing Sacred” and Janet Leigh taking on the Fredric March role.

“Living it Up” lacks the wonderful hard-boiled edge of “Nothing Sacred,” which offered a warped tale of a phony terminally ill patient milking the excess generosity of New York City. Instead, it makes the mistake of substituting slapstick for cynicism, with Lewis falling into his usual spastic shtick. Top-billed Martin is mostly a supporting character and his on-screen wooing of leading lady Leigh is a snoozer. (Though it should be said that comedy was never Leigh’s forte and Martin’s inability to connect with her should not be a reflection on his talents.)

On the bright side, though, “Living it Up” contains a number of memorable moments centered around Lewis enjoying out-of-control dilemmas: a wild dance with the electrifying Sheree North, a disastrous party where Lewis somehow winds up ordering 3,000 shrimp cocktails and a brilliantly edited scene with Lewis simultaneously impersonating three doctors at once. There is also a charming musical number where Martin and Lewis happily perform the jaunty “Hazel Flagg” tune “Every Street’s a Boulevard in Old New York” – for that brief moment, the men actually perform in the traditional sense of teamwork. But it was too little, too late – within two years of the film’s premiere, their team was dissolved.

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Phil Hall Phil Hall has enjoyed a three-decade career in the film industry as a journalist, critic, publicist, distributor, festival programmer and actor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Wired, American Movie Classics Magazine and Film Threat. He is the author of seven books, including "The History of Independent Cinema," "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time" and "In Search of Lost Films."

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