I’ve only tried to play golf twice in my life. I had a couple of friends in high school who liked to golf and they dragged me along for a couple of rounds. Needless to say, I struggled. I think one of the big problems I had was that they were all right-handed and I am a lefty…so nobody was really able to teach me the right way to do it. Now with miniature golf I rock…but with the more traditional version, I was a bit of a screw up. Speaking of screw ups and golf…that bring us to Jerry Lewis. I have no idea how the bumbling comic fared on the links in real life, but on movie screens he and Dean Martin brought their brand of music and comedy to the fairway in our film today…1953’s The Caddy.
Jerry plays Harvey Miller Jr, the son of a champion professional golfer. Harvey is a talented golfer himself, but he has one big problem…his game becomes a mess if anyone is watching. So, instead of being a golf pro, he ends up working in a department store. That’s not all bad, though, because one of his coworkers is his fiance Lisa (Barbara Bates). Her father is a fisherman and her mother runs the family’s Italian restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. Things aren’t great for the family financially speaking, though. They are actually in danger of losing the restaurant. However, when Lisa’s brother Joe (Dean Martin) returns home a new moneymaking opportunity arrives. Joe has no interest in being a fisherman like his old man, but he is a fairly decent golfer. Harvey decides that he can train Joe to be a golf pro so they can start raking in the money. Of course, Harvey will be his caddy.
Joe starts with a tournament with a whopping $500 prize. Immediately upon arrival, he starts wooing a girl working with the tournament, Kathy (Donna Reed). Joe ends up winning, but unfortunately tradition states that the winner of this tournament always donates the check back to charity. So he still ends up with nothing…and the restaurant’s days are numbered. To make matters worse, Joe’s quick success starts to go to his head and a divide begins to form between Golfer and Caddy. Luckily, Harvey doesn’t give up so easily and he sets out to make sure that Joe will be at the top of his game for the big tournament.
The Caddy has some really nice moments for both Martin and Lewis, even if it may not be one of their best films together. Jerry Lewis definitely takes the spotlight over Deano in this one. We’re still a few years away from the team’s infamous breakup, but we’re already seeing Jerry in some sequences that are more like what he would do when his solo career started. Most notable is the sequence where Jerry manages to completely destroy a department store in just a matter of minutes. The sequence is very complex with its progression of gags, and Jerry proves to be quite skilled on roller skates. Another standout sequence toward the end of the pictures sees Jerry pretending to be a snooty socialite as he crashes a party looking for Dean. It’s a funny sequence and a great contrast to his usual nasaly voice that he does for most of this film.
Though Jerry steals the spotlight a bit in this one, Dean still has a moment or two. Most notably is his performance of his signature song “That’s Amore,” which believe it or not made its debut in this movie. The song comes during a big family dinner scene where everyone insists Dean do a song for them. It’s a nicely done musical number, though it will be a bit surprising to some to hear the song in a way that we’re not quite used to. You may have heard the song before, but you may not have heard Jerry Lewis join in halfway through with lyrics like, “If you still kiss your goil after garlic and oil, that’s Amore.”
So, The Caddy has many nice moments, but it does start to drag a bit when it has to focus on moving the story forward. The romance between Donna Reed and Dean Martin is only there because they had to give Deano a love interest…especially when Jerry gets one earlier in the film than he does. The element of the film that bugged me the most, though, was the strange framing device. The film actually opens with a performance by musical comedy act Anthony & Miller (Martin & Lewis’ characters). The rest of the film is a flashback of how they came together with the whole golf story. I can only imagine they did this to work in another song for the duo. The ultimate culmination of this is a strange final moment of the film where Anthony & Miller meet Martin & Lewis backstage!?!? Talk about confusing.
While The Caddy certainly has some weak spots in the story department, the plot is ultimatley inconsequential to enjoying the film. Both stars have their chances to shine and prove what made their act so popular. It’s not a great film achievement, but for me The Caddy is certainly more fun than a round of golf…at least the kind without windmills.