The Nutty Professor (1963, 1996)


“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” –Sirius Black, character from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

If I could co-write this blog post with anyone from history, it would be Robert Louis Stevenson. The process might go something like this…

Keith is in the kitchen watching a bag of popcorn expand in the microwave. He hears a knock at the front door and goes to investigate. The man he finds stand on the front porch has long black hair and an impressive Van Dyke beard. “I’m Mr. Stevenson.”

“Like…Robert Louis Stevenson?”

“Precisely.” Mr. Stevenson comes inside and does not hesitate to make himself at home on the sofa.

Keith: “Put your feet up, Mr. Stevenson. We’re going to watch a couple of movies for a blog series I’m writing. Movies are…well, they’re kind of like theatrical plays that you can watch happen inside a little box. The first one is The Nutty Professor from 1963, starring Jerry Lewis. Then we’re going to check out the 1996 version featuring Eddie Murphy. Both films are a parody of your novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They’re about a science professor who is not content with his life, so he tries to create a better version of himself that starts to take over in awful ways.”

 Mr. Stevenson: “Whatever you say, Keith.”

Keith brings in the popcorn and they proceed to watch The Nutty Professor (1963). Robert Louis Stevenson chuckles occasionally, but he is mostly confused.

Keith: “So…what did you think?”

Mr. Stevenson: “There is one main distinction that stands out between the character in this movie and my version of Dr. Jekyll. Professor Julius Kelp seems oblivious to the problems of his potion, while Dr. Jekyll is aware of the battle he is creating between good and evil and tries to fight it. I wish I could have observed more of this crossover and tension between good and evil in The Nutty Professor.

Keith: “Good point. And who knows, showing more of Kelp’s awareness of good and evil could have resulted in stronger comedy. I do think Jerry Lewis was way ahead of his time with his performance, though. It’s obvious that comedian Jim Carrey has taken a page or two out of Jerry’s book for some of his crazy on-screen antics. Are you ready to watch Eddie Murphy now?”

Keith and Mr. Stevenson watch The Nutty Professor (1996). Robert Louis Stevenson’s mouth hangs open in shock for 90 minutes.

Mr. Stevenson: (After a few moments of silence.) “What pleased me about this version was that you could witness more of the tension between good and evil that the last film was lacking. But were these writers on opium? Mama Klump says, and I quote: ‘Every time we have a meal, you start breaking gas. Don’t break gas and destroy our meal.’ And that was mildest thing uttered in the crass dinner scene. If I penned those words in 1886, I would have been banned from publication and possibly thrown in prison.”

Keith: “The biggest difference I noticed between your work and these movies was how the endings unfolded. Mr. Hyde essentially kills Dr. Jekyll, but in The Nutty Professor, good is victorious. The experience of tampering with alternate versions of themselves inspired the professors to embrace their imperfections. And they realized the imperfections were what their crushes loved the whole time.” Keith shakes his head. Oh, Hollywood.

Mr. Stevenson: “As I always say: Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”

And that’s exactly what we learn from the experiences of Kelp and Klump in The Nutty Professor movies.