For Jerry Lewis fans, the DVD release of The Disorderly Orderly is just what the doctor ordered. Jerry stars as Jerome Littlefield, a hapless orderly in a sanitarium. A failed medical student, Jerome psychosomatically experiences the patients' symptoms and otherwise creates havoc. This was Lewis's last film with former Warner Bros. animator Frank Tashlin, who provided this human cartoon with some of his best sight gags. At one point, a snail overtakes a crawling, straitjacketed Jerome. In another, Jerome is nearly buried under an avalanche after a patient asks him to adjust the "snow" on her television screen. A jarring subplot involving an embittered, suicidal woman (Susan Oliver) on whom Jerome has had a lifelong crush is at odds with the Mack Sennett slapstick tone of the rest of the film. But Jerry will have kids in stitches.
This hilarious Jerry Lewis vehicle is one of his all-time classics. The major reason for this is the skillful work of writer/director Frank Tashlin: no other filmmaker could use the many gifts of Lewis as skillfully as he could. Tashlin's script plays not only to Lewis's skills for mugging and slapstick but also weaves in a surprising amount of drama that brings out his underrated gift for pathos. Lewis rises to the challenge of this script with a performance that covers the gamut from rubber-faced antics to surprisingly understated expressions of adult emotion, often within the same scene. Tashlin also gets great performances from the rest of the cast: Susan Oliver delivers a genuinely intense and dramatic performance as the troubled girl the hero pines for, Kathleen Freeman makes an excellent comedic foil for Lewis as his constantly agitated supervisor and Everett Sloane is amusing as a sleazy administrator who gets his comeuppance. Best of all, Tashlin's direction of The Disorderly Orderly is truly inventive: he gives the film a snazzy pace and a bright, "pop" color scheme that suits the manic approach of its star. More importantly, he uses the language of film to choreograph the gags in unique, visually expressive ways. Highlights in that area include a silent argument played out with subtitles and the masterfully choreographed finale, which orchestrates a chase between two ambulances in a manner that is thrilling and hilariously destructive all at once. In short, anyone with an interest in Jerry Lewis's work needs to see The Disorderly Orderly.