From an artistic standpoint, The Bellboy is minor-league screen comedy, the victim of its energetic star’s limited craftsmanship.
The picture is, as it admits in an introductory disclaimer, a ‘series of silly sequences,’ with ‘no story, no plot.’ It follows Jerry Lewis, as a bellboy at Miami’s fashionable Fontainebleau Hotel, through a number of zany misadventures in which he speaks not a word of dialog. Several of the sequences are amusing, but too many are dependent upon climactic sight gags anticipated well in advance of the punch.
The film has a tendency to grow repetitious, one of the major reasons for this being Lewis’ strict adherence to the sort of physical exaggertation (the palsied movement and distorted facial maneuvers) that has become his trademark.
There are latent elements of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp, Jacques Tati’s ‘Hulot’, Danny Kaye’s ‘Mitty’ and Harpo Marx’s curiously tender child-man, but the execution falls far short of such inspiration. Under Lewis’ direction, the Bellboy emerges a two-dimensional portrait, a clown without a soul, a funnyman to be laughed at, but not rooted for.
Lewis has surrounded himself with some exceptionally vigorous talents. Among the standouts in the large, relatively unfamilar supporting cast are Alex Gerry, Bob Clayton, Bill Richmond (in a Stan Laurel takeoff) and the Novelites, who fashion one of the picture’s comedy peaks. Milton Berle puts in a surprise guest appearance.
Since all the action takes place at the actual Fontainebleau, and no well-known names other than Lewis grace its cast roster, Bellboy undoubtedly was brought in on an unusually small budget.