Jerry Lewis lands a job at a department store. Chaos follows.
Like most of Jerry movies it can be summed up with a simple description. Frequent Lewis director Frank Tashlin directs Jerry as he creates havoc with customers and merchandise. There are some further details that are given as to how Jerry finds himself running around this store – as if his fans need that.
Mrs. Tuttle (Agnes Moorehead) is the rich owner of Tuttle’s Department Store. She’s not happy that her daughter Barbara (Jill St. John) is in love with hapless Norman Phiffier – that’s Jerry. Barbara has gone to great lengths to hide the fact she’s a wealthy department store heiress from everyone, even Jerry. She hopes that she will find true love with a man who will love her for herself and not her rich family.
And she has found it with Jerry. But he can’t hold down a job, he’s clumsy and Mrs. Tuttle feels Norman is unworthy to be the man for her daughter. It doesn’t matter that Barbara likes him and has gone through this charade of being a working class elevator operator in order to find the man of her dreams.
Mrs. Tuttle doesn’t like Norman and wants to eliminate him from her daughters life and end this embarrassing relationship. Being a rich, powerful, cut-throat Tuttle, she always gets what she wants.
She instructs her department store manager Ray Walston to hire Norman and give him a series of impossible, outlandish tasks in the hopes he’ll quit and make Barbara see that he’s worthless and not the man for her.
However, Norman is determined to succeed at his new job and is willing to complete any ludicrous task assigned to him, nor is he deterred by his constant series of foulups. It might drive Walston crazy, but Jerry fans will love it all.
It’s a pretty contrived setup to get Jerry into the department store and not have him get immediately fired. I mean, any sensible employer would can him pretty instantly with the antics he pulls in this place. In Hardly Working, Jerry was getting fired from jobs left and right doing less nutty nonsense he pulls here. But since here the challenge is to get him to quit this job on his own we get a reason why he gets to stay and continue to rain down destruction on Walston, customers and merchandise.
The film gets into an episodic series of chaotic mishaps of Jerry holding court spilling, crashing, falling and wrecking the place.
All the cartoonish mayhem I could accept (it’s a Jerry movie, of course we’re going to get that stuff), but the most unreal aspect to this movie I found was Jill St. John – looking as fetching as ever – swooning over Jerry. I know we’re in movie land, but I found it pretty hard to swallow. So hard that it had me shaking my head each time their romance would come up.
A scene of her relentlessly passionately kissing him was more outlandish than the vacuum cleaner sucking up half the contents of the department store. It’s kind of hard to buy that she would fall for Jerry, but that’s the beauty of movies – anything can happen!
So, she’s great to look at and the romantic angle is secondary to the main attraction anyway – which is Jerry’s particular brand of comedy. That’s what kids wanted to see when this came out in theaters and it’s why people continue to watch Jerry’s movies.
It’s somewhat ironic that out of all the chaos and carefully staged comedic set-pieces, the most famous scene out of Who’s Minding the Store? is one of the simplest. The typewriting scene with Jerry miming typing with a catchy little tune composed by Leroy Anderson accompanying him. That’s all it takes. It’s an amusing bizarre moment.
What’s strange is how the typewriter scene doesn’t really fit into the department store setting. Really, this typewriter scene could have taken place in any of Jerry’s movies. He could have done this random bit of business in a hospital, at a hotel, a college, just anywhere!
Yet, somehow it ended up in his department store movie. Jerry performed this typewriter bit for decades in appearances. It’s probably one of his most famous bits of comedy. I don’t think it’s that funny, but it is memorable.
John McGiver is always fun to watch when he pops up in so many movies and here he brings his distinctive voice and proper attitude to this. Walston is a perfect straight man to get annoyed and exasperated by what’s befalling on his store. And I will say it again Jill St. John looks spectacular!
There’s a few funny gags dotted through this, but I just find it a very standard Jerry Lewis movie. There’s really nothing in it that I was blown away by or really stuck in my head (apart from the typewriter bit and Jill St. John). When fans talk about great Jerry Lewis films and examples of his influence on filmmaking and comedy I’m not sure Who’s Minding the Store? is at the top of the list.