Forgotten Films: Way…Way Out (1966)

From the tragic to the tragique, I realize I’ve written very little on Monsieur Jerry Lewis, the greatest living comedic filmmaker on the planet (alongside Woody) despite the highly debatable nature of his output or even if some consider it comedic at all. Or do they? Lewis was the butt of many jokes about bad comedy in the 1970’s-80’s until his critical reformation in THE KING OF COMEDY (1982) — and Lewis was right, the critics are usually the last to know. That was then. Is there actually anybody now who can’t find something hilarious in any Jerry Lewis film? Maybe John Simon or Rex Reed. Or the authors of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED (1970). Woody Allen even asked The Idiot to direct TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) and Lewis told him to do it himself. I was glad to see Jerry take the stage and finally get his Academy Award, though he shoulda been nominated for Best Actor as THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) — as Eddie Murphy also should have in the otherwise uneven re-make in 1996. Like Marty Scorcese, I keep a treasured copy of “The Total Film-Maker” close to my vest.

All of which is fanfare about a flea, since we’re talking WAY…WAY OUT from 1966, one of Lewis’ rarely-screened and unavailable films. I recall seeing this only once in my TV childhood, a CBS Late Night Movie I believe; I was an astronaut geek and intrigued by its 60’s space age ambiance. Plus I was a Lewis fan as most children were. But this was one of the transitional films where Lewis was trying to update his man-child persona into swinging bachelorhood, the same way Julius Kelp transforms into Buddy Love, though less obnoxious. Paramount wanted Lewis to stop directing, stop getting all artistic and go back to the laughs, as in the sexy swinging stews comedy with Tony Curtis, BOEING BOEING (1965). That was his last film at the studio, but he tried this soft approach at 20th Century Fox. But comparing THE NUTTY PROFESSOR to WAY…WAY OUT shows the fallacy of that argument.

The screenplay by William Bowers is the highly probable story of a 1989 cosmic cold sex war as Jerry Lewis and Connie Stevens, the first American married astronauts, are sent to a moonbase along with a horny Russian couple. Wacky outer space 60’s hi-jinks ensue. Or don’t, depending on your comedy bent. The gags are on the level of a risque party jokebook, with the characters as strained as the material. And as directed by that venerable workhorse Gordon Douglas (THEM; OCEAN’S ELEVEN), the set-ups are more static than a CinemaScope episode of LOST IN SPACE. Yet…yet there are pleasures to be had in WAY…WAY OUT. The movie blasts off from the get go-go with the infectious theme song by Gary Lewis & The Playboys along with Lalo Schifrin, who composed the supercool soundtrack (which is what most favorably remember about this effort along with its spaz star). The widescreen frame gives this low-budget film an epic Pan Am sheen; the production design is suitably NASA pop for the era.

Then of course there’s Jerry Lewis, who doesn’t show up for ten minutes, and who plays in a lower-idiot key, more of a men’s magazine cad than bumbling fool. As others have discovered, Lewis does just as well when under-playing and over-playing, but it’s also true that this kind of part could have been written for Tony Curtis or James Garner and doesn’t take advantage of Lewis’s physical gifts until the end of the movie as the astronauts engage in an all-too-brief space brawl. He’s also at his best in a scene where he becomes brazen and obnoxious in a drunken report to Robert Morley. The supporting cast is very interesting, especially one of my favorites, Dick Shawn, as the lovable Russian cosmonaut. Dennis Weaver and Howard Morris play the crazed, frustrated astronauts who have a complete breakdown with Weaver surprisingly funny. Brian Keith is good as a stern general cast in the DR. STRANGELOVE-mode. And it wouldn’t officially be a 60’s sex comedy without Anita Elkberg. Va-va-va zoom, lady!

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14 Responses to “Forgotten Films: Way…Way Out (1966)”

  1. I’m pretty sure, I saw this as a child (way back when). Plus, any 60’s sex comedy with Anita Elkberg in it is one worth noting. Thanks for this.

    p.s., I’ve nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger award.

  2. as the french representative in this small community, and, as we know, in france, everybody loves jerry lewis (a true cliché, for once), here are the french titles of the this magnificent work : Jerry sur la lune (jerry on the moon) / Tiens bon la rampe Jerry (hold the ramp, jerry).

    a true gem.

  3. I love this movie, I haven’t see this in over 26yrs. I want it released on DVD.
    Lewis played the straight man while everyone else seem to go crazy around him. Though he did his slap-shtick a bit, Dick Shawn and Dennis Weaver and Brian Keith just rocked. Lets not forget Howard Morris as Schmidlap, playing a horned out pervert!

    • christian Says:

      Definitely demands a DVD release – STAT. Shawn is always a treat but Howard Morris is just plain scary as an outer space perv!

  4. ROBERTA MARTINS Says:

    • AVISO PARA O MUNDO:
    JERRY LEWIS ESTA DOS MEUS OLHOS Longe (EUA), Eu moro no (BRASIL), POREM, ESTA ETERNIZADO no meu Coração, POR QUE EU SIMPLESMENTE AMO JERRY LEWIS.
    JERRY LEWIS E UNICO E INSUBSTITUIVEL.
    JERRY LEWIS E UM ESPETACULO DE HOMEM, SOLIDÁRIO, divertido, charmoso, LINDO, PERFEITO … JERRY LEWIS (EU TE AMO) … eternamente,
    O MAIOR SONHO DE TODA A MINHA VIDA E CONHECER JERRY LEWIS E DIZER: JERRY LEWIS EU TE AMO POR TODA ETERNIDADE.
    AJUDE-ME A REALIZAR ESTE MEU SONHO ANTIGO, MAS, SEMPRE RECENTE NO MEU CORACAO.
    RESPONDE MEU EMAIL. POR DEUS !
    AGUARDO COM MUITA ESPERANÇA. ISSO NÃO E UMA BRINCADEIRA, E PURO AMOR DE FA.

    ROBERTA MARTINS.
    Fortaleza-Ceará
    BRASIL
    06 DE MAIO DE 2012

  5. christian Says:

    I know once I translate this the secrets of the universe will be revealed…

  6. The scene with Schmildap leaving the space station has lived in my mind for 40 years as the funniest scene ever shot. I just saw the movie again for the first time since it’s release and it not only lived up to my memory- it surpassed it. This is one of the funniest films ever made. Here is my list- The Producers (60’s version) The Out of Towner’s (60’s version) Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Way…Way Out. thanx

  7. Dennis Locantore Says:

    This is truly an unsung very funny great flick that was years ahead of its’ time. Kinda like Jerry’s response in the mid 60’s to his old partner Dean Martin’s universally reviled (at the time) KISS ME, STUPID from Billy Wilder. Great scope photography from William H. Clothier. Fine comic performances from everyone (my favorites are Howard Morris, Dennis Weaver, Robert Morley and Brian Keith in about that order). Don’t forget too that Jerry’s other sex-comedy with Tony Curtis BOEING BOEING was the year before this. So he was, despite being relegated by the industry as being thought of as a “KIDS ACT”, he WAS trying to expand and be a romantic lead even in comedies. That this was directed by the unsung and not highly thought of GORDON DOUGLAS, is also no surprise. Remember the following films of his, BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, COME FILL THE CUP, THEM!, ONLY THE VALIANT, THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST, RIO CONCHOS, HARLOW, the vastly underrated remake of STAGECOACH, FOLLOW THAT DREAM and lastly THE DETECTIVE. It is available to watch on Amazon.

    • christian Says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. This film is ripe for a big screen reappearance if only for its Cinemacope sheen. And people will be surprised at Lewis’s restraint here, maybe even due to Douglas. I’ll have to watch the remake of 1966 STAGECOACH someday…

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