Should I stay or should I go? Image: TCM

There’s an odd ending to the 1956 western satire, Pardners, starring the comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

As the words “THE END” appear on screen, Martin and Lewis protest, saying they’re not ready for The End. They shoot down the letters from the screen using their pistols, and agree to make more films together. The words “THE END” reappear on screen, and everyone lives Happily Ever After.

This gag, so called, might appear as a (weak) attempt at a last laugh, but it was actually Loaded with Meaning.

During the making of Pardners, there were rumours that the team was on the verge of splitting up. After being together – as friends and performers – for 10 years, the friction between the two was becoming more intense.

The film’s ending was a way to quell the gossip. Settle down, everybody, we’re not breaking up the act.

But they were. According to IMDb, on the day Pardners was released in theatres, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appeared together for the last time on stage.

There would be one final film, Hollywood or Bust (1956), and the pair would call it Quits.

They would not speak to each other in private for the next 20 years.

In earlier, happier days. Image: Closer Weekly

We didn’t see much evidence of this behind-the-scenes unease when we saw Pardners.

Lewis stars as a rich city boy who’s always dreamed of being a cowboy, while Martin plays a ranch foreman struggling with real-world problems of finances and Bad Guys.

The two meet at an eastern rodeo and travel west together, becoming unlikely partners on the journey.

Martin’s character, at first, thinks Lewis is a silly man-boy, but he eventually develops a grudging respect for the lad. Lewis’s young man isn’t too bright, but he does have a generous heart and a desire to help Martin save his ranch from the Bad Guys.

We had low expectations of Pardners, but we were surprised by how much chemistry Martin and Lewis still had, and how genuinely funny they were.

In fact, it’s the film that changed our mind about Jerry Lewis.

Jerry Lewis is keepin’ the peace. Image:

We have to be honest: We never thought Jerry Lewis was amusing.

We felt Lewis was a bit too manic, but, admittedly, we’d only sampled his early radio and film work, which left us feeling flat.

Lewis, to us, seemed too frantic to grab all the laughs, relegating the naturally funny Martin to the Sidelines.

But when we saw Lewis in Pardners, we were struck by how sweet and trusting his character is, and how engaging he can be. The film is built around Lewis, and it’s crucial he doesn’t alienate the audience if the thing is to work.

He pulls it off. He has some truly funny scenes, the manic silliness notwithstanding, and we developed an unexpected appreciation for his style. Like Martin’s character, we began cheering for him.

So, when it came to the last scene, where the words “THE END” appear and are shot down by the pair, we could see why audiences would want to disbelieve the rumours.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

If you have a spare 90 minutes, we recommend Pardners, a playful spoof about The Old West. It could change your mind about Jerry Lewis.

Pardners: starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lori Nelson, Directed by Norman Taurog. Written by Sidney Sheldon. York Pictures Corporation, 1956, Colour, 90 mins.

Further Reading

  • More about the Martin & Lewis comedy team – and their onstage reunion – is HERE.
  • Read about the pair’s early career HERE.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

17 Comment on “Changing Our Mind about Jerry Lewis

  1. Pingback: The Sunday Paper: Chapter 42 | Random and Sundry Things

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