Spotlight on Dean Martin in The Stooge
I love Frank Sinatra but, to me, Dean Martin will always be the king of cool. Whether yucking it up with Jerry Lewis, palling around with the Rat Pack or taking a dramatic turn his legendary charisma lit up the screen. So, when I heard about the Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon hosted by Musings of a Class Film Addict I was hard pressed to choose a favorite role. Would it be Dude in Rio Bravo, Jeff Moss in Bells are Ringing or Sam Harmon in Ocean’s 11? But I must admit, my favorite Dean Martin is early Dean Martin when he made up one half of the hilarious Martin & Lewis so I had to go with Bill Miller in The Stooge.
Martin & Lewis is such an iconic pairing that it’s hard to fathom the duo lasted only a decade. Formed in 1946 they established a nightclub act before branching into film three years later with My Friend Irma. Relegated to a supporting act they stole the film and soon were on the fast track to stardom. In 1953, they were at the height of their career and starred in 4 films including, my favorite, The Stooge.
In the period film Martin stars as Bill Miller, a freshly married member of a successful vaudeville team eager to go out on his own. Owning a healthy ego, he’s confident he’ll be a success and such a one that he encourages his new bride (and fellow vaudeville star) Mary Turner, played by Polly Bergen, to retire. Unfortunately, his skill level doesn’t match his confidence and he’s soon laying eggs all over town. Enter Jerry Lewis’ Ted Rodgers – a bit of a flunky who’s boss is eager to get rid of. Miller hires Rogers as the stooge in his act and success soon follows. The duo hits the big time but Miller refuses to acknowledge the contributions of his “stooge.” How will the duo ever survive?
The Stooge is my favorite Martin & Lewis film because it’s an absolutely hilarious film with a big heart. It portrays a highly fictional world of showbiz where the star with the ego is happily humbled, the good guy earns his right to success and, above all, love conquers everything. Though it’s pure fantasy it’s a sweet dose of escapism. Dean Martin, known for perhaps being the most relaxed man alive, plays against type as a jerk with a big chip on his shoulder. Martin is hilariously sweet as the accident prone Rodgers and none of the egotism that overshadowed his later roles is evident. The duo play off each other perfectly and there’s no evidence of the cracks in their real life relationship at the time.
The Stooge is a prime example of just how wonderful and hilarious Martin & Lewis were as a duo. Though their time together was short lived it produced several gems (be sure to also check out The Caddy and Scared Stiff) and will not soon be forgotten.