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Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Title Card
Your April 2008 RMC Results Are In!

Preshow Entertainment: THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW

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1957. Eydie Gorme marries Steve Lawrence. GIANT becomes a giant at the box office. And Jerry Lewis does his first solo show after he and Dean split up the hottest act in showbiz.

One of at least four TV shows called THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW (he had two in the '60s and one in the '80s), I believe this one was part of a rotating variety show back in 1957 called SATURDAY COLOR CARNIVAL (though ours was in black and white). It aired once a month, from 9-10:30 on NBC. I'm not sure, but I think Jerry only did one. It was huge for him, as it was the first time he was without Dean.

And it was exactly what you'd expect - Jerry did schtick. He went into the audience where there were shills. He did his unabashedly racist Chinese man (buck teeth and a bad accent) where he played Charlie Chin as actual #1 Son Keye Luke played #1 Son. You'd think Jerry making Chinese jokes to Luke's face would be wrong, but those were different times so it was okay to be racist. What's worse is that Jerry continued to do this character into the 1980s. Next, he brought on Eydie Gorme, all of 26 years old, and her song I'LL TAKE ROMANCE. He pimped THE DELICATE DELINQUENT hard, listing at least a dozen cities he would visit at the premieres. Then, out came his dad Danny, and they did their skit SONNY BOY together, followed by the same routine with Jerry and his 12 year old son (not #1) Gary (of THIS DIAMOND RING fame) in his debut, passing the SONNY BOY routine down to the next generation.

The pizza arrived, so we stopped the tape, which means we missed the appearance of another comedy team, Rowan & Martin. And that's pretty close to Martin & Lewis.

Among Jerry's countless showbiz claims was that he got James Dean one of his first movie roles (if you look closely, you can spot him in the movie SAILOR BEWARE). But that's cool, because it segues us nicely into:


Some people love Robert Altman and others hate him. Then there are those who like some of his films but not others. That's me. I liked SHORT CUTS, but didn't like GOSFORD PARK. I liked THE PLAYER, but didn't like READY TO WEAR. And I liked COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN, and the other 9 people at Random Movie Club did not.

It's 1975, and a small reunion of the Disciples of James Dean Club is having its 20 year reunion at the place it all started for them, a Woolworth's in a small town in Texas. As the characters enter, often one at a time like an Agatha Christie story, we learn more and more about who they were then, and eventually, who they are now. The movie is framed, literally (they use a two-way mirror), between now (1975) and then (1955), when James Dean died in a car crash. For some, a lot has happened in those twenty years. For others, much like the Orange Crush on the counter or the McGuire Sisters' song on the Wurlitzer, things haven't changed a lick.

They've gathered to reminisce about 1955, when James Dean came to a nearby town to shoot the movie GIANT. Mona was in love with James Dean, and she convinced her friend and co-worker Joe to drive her to where they were shooting the movie. Joe was the 5 & 10 employee who was uncomfortable in his skin, and let the town know at the talent show when he, Sissy, and Mona performed a McGuire Sisters song. Probably not a good idea in mid-'50s Texas. But it was that event and what happened next that changed many of their lives forever.

Their reunion is thrown a curve ball when Joanne, a mysterious stranger, enters. Who is she, and how does she know things only members of their club would know? Joanne's presence seems to confirm that they're all living in the small town of Denial, as one by one secrets are exposed, secrets that some of them didn't even know about themselves.

The cast is wonderful. Breaking out in her first significant role (unless you count the movie CHASTITY thirteen years earlier) is Cher as Sissy, still working at the 5 & 10 after all these years, still dreaming of getting out of the town, still braggin' on her boobies. When you think of Cher and her movies like MOONSTRUCK, SILKWOOD and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, it's hard to believe she hasn't made 60 movies. I was shocked to realize she's barely made a dozen films.

Sandy Dennis plays Mona, perhaps the strongest character, who is convinced her mentally slow son is James Dean's love child. So locked into who she thinks he is and who she is that no one dare tell her otherwise. If she wants to leave college after a few days to return to work at the 5 & 10, that's okay. And if she wants to believe she can buy the Reata Ranch they used in GIANT, so be it, even though like herself, the house is just a facade.

Karen Black plays Joanne with a knowing slyness. But for me, the movie was stolen by Sudie Bond, who played Juanita, the bilious owner of the 5 & 10, with such realism it almost felt like it was a hidden camera movie. A righteous Christian widow whose values cannot be corrupted, even if it means the denial of what her husband really was. Also in the cast, Marta Heflin as the mousy and feeble Edna Louise, and Kathy Bates as the rambunctious and slightly cliched Stella Mae.

Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Movie Poster
It takes someone like Robert Altman to take a so-so play and make it work on film. His eye is always moving us around the one set, keeping us on our toes as he toggles between both sides of the twenty year gap (with no real special effects, it was pretty interesting how he made the flashbacks work so well). Yes, the movie is mannered and calculated, and it smelled so much like a play you'd half expect to look up and see ushers with flashlights in my living room (Altman had first directed the Broadway play with many of the same actors). And yes, the last third was labored. And yes, some of the dialogue felt Playwrighting 101 - "...(I'd) stare at the cracks in the ceiling, like a road map, tracing the route that led me to where I was at that moment." Other times it felt like I was watching THE VIEW. But I found COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN to be original, interesting, and even defiant to its pedestrian premise. It's worth a viewing, though good luck finding it on DVD.

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