Cracking Up (film)

Cracking Up is a 1983 American comedy film directed by and starring Jerry Lewis. Originally titled Smorgasbord, it was filmed in 1981-82 and only received limited distribution in the United States. It was the final film directed by Lewis before his death in 2017.

Cracking Up
Theatrical Poster for the Belgian Release
T'es fou, Jerry ! (French title)[1]
Smorgasbord (original title)
Ben je gek, Jerry ? (Flemish title)
Directed byJerry Lewis
Produced byPeter Nelson
Arnold Orgolini
Written byJerry Lewis
Bill Richmond
StarringJerry Lewis
Herb Edelman
Zane Buzby
CinematographyGerald Finnerman
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • April 13, 1983 (1983-04-13) (France)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office553,259 admissions (France)[2]

The film marked a one-time reunion with Bill Richmond, Lewis' screenwriting collaborator on such films as The Nutty Professor and The Patsy.


Warren Nefron (Jerry Lewis) is a klutz who cannot do anything right. He tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Pletchick (Herb Edelman), his problems. Through a series of flashbacks the viewer sees Nefron's life story.[3][4][5]

Warren is such a failure that even his many attempts to commit suicide fail. Eventually the psychiatrist uses hypnosis to cure Warren. Although Warren is now cured, the psychiatrist has experienced transference and now has all of Nefron's problems.

The story ends with Warren and a young woman attending a film called Smorgasbord.



It includes many cameos, including Sammy Davis Jr.,[7] Dick Butkus,[8] and Milton Berle.[9] In December 1982, after filming completed, Lewis underwent triple-bypass heart surgery at the Desert Springs Hospital, Las Vegas NV.


The film is a series of short comic skits, set-pieces, and black-out gags, unified by Nefron's attempt to overcome his phobias and malaise, fit into society, find meaning, and achieve happiness. The opening credit sequence is a tour-de-force performance of Nefron (Lewis) unable to get traction on the furniture and floor of his doctor's waiting room (a wry comment, under the pratfalls, on vinyl and plastic decor) and has justifiably become a fan favorite. Other highlights are when Nefron tries to order dinner from a waitress who insists on listing every option on the menu (done in a whiny nasally voice), a Southern sheriff with a glove problem (Lewis, who plays at least two other parts as well), and a running gag involving Nefron's attempts to quit smoking.


The film was released theatrically in some European countries, notably France (where it was released on April 13, 1983 by Warner Bros.), Belgium and Italy. It was given a limited release in U.S. theatres, going at first directly to cable and on videocassette. In May 1985 it was given a two-day run at New York's Thalia Theater,[10] under its original title, double-billed with The King of Comedy. It later played a smattering of revival houses, art cinemas,[11] and film festivals. The film screened as part of the 'Jerry Lewis: The Total Filmmaker' program at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival (28 July – 14 August).[12][13][14]

Home media

Warner Archive released the film on made-to-order DVD in the United States on May 18, 2010.[15][16][17]


  • "a mostly cold buffet of random Lewis routines in which the director-star falls off slippery furniture, cracks up automobiles, fails at suicide and can't even walk across the floor of his psychiatrist's office without taking a header." May 17, 1985 Vincent Canby The New York Times[10]
  • "A twilight smorgasbord, serenely avant-garde, and the culmination of the development of Lewis' cinematic language" November 17, 2009 Fernando F. Croce CinePassion[18]
  • "Lives up to its title in ways that seem painfully intentional. February 29, 2016; Richard Brody New Yorker.[19]
  • "It should be considered as one of the most unfunny comedies ever made." August 31, 2017 Dennis Schwartz. Ozus' World Movie Reviews[20]
  • J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, “the ascetic, abstract quality one associates with auteurs in the moody twilight of their obsessions.”[11]
  • "Thus, inevitably, he made another, making the ever-present concept of suicide in Jerry’s films (literally or artistic, attempted or accidental) the through-line for a last loose, soaring series of sketches, stripped down to essentials." Christoph Huber Cinema Scope magazine, Issue 57[21][22]
  • " “Cracking Up” (aka “Smorgasbord”) in 1983, a film that never made it to American theaters, instead going straight to cable TV and videocassette. (Yet in Europe it was another hit, topping “Hardly Working” at the French box office.)" August 22, 2017 Chris Hicks : Deseret News [23]
  • "What makes Smorgasbord darker and more despairing than any of Lewis’ other films, however, is the fact that this threat is no longer articulated in terms of any particular existence or identity: Warren’s problem is not so much, like that of Lewis’ earlier protagonists, his failure to measure up to a predetermined role (the movie star in The Patsy (1964), the normative heterosexual male in The Ladies Man (1961) and The Nutty Professor (1963)), as it is an inability to exist at all, even on a purely physical level, without experiencing and causing an intolerable amount of suffering." Michael Cramer July 2016 "Deconstructing Jerry: Lewis as Director" Senses of Cinema Issue 79[24][25][26]
  • "Watching a grouchy, transparently joyless man in his mid-fifties bumble his way sourly through these kind of man-child shenanigans, however, is just sad. “Sad” is an appropriate word for Cracked Up, and not just because it opens with Warren Nefron (Jerry Lewis) unsuccessfully attempting suicide." Jerry Lewis' The Bellboy and Cracking Up by Nathan Rabin[27]


  1. "CRACKING UP Movie Poster".
  2. Jerry Lewis at Box Office Story
  3. Almanaque Virtual (20 August 2017). "Jerry Lewis em "Cracking Up - As Loucuras de Jerry Lewis" (1983)" via YouTube.
  4. SoleilSmile (22 December 2010). "Jerry Lewis Jitterbug" via YouTube.
  5. Melbourne International Film Festival (5 July 2016). "SMORGASBORD - Trailer" via YouTube.
  6. "[The Daily] Jerry Lewis, 1926–2017".
  7. "Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Junior in the film Smorgasbord".
  8. "Smorgasbord - Publicity still of Jerry Lewis & Dick Butkus".
  9. "Smorgasbord - Publicity still of Milton Berle & Jerry Lewis".
  10. "SCREEN: 'SMORGASBORD' OPENS". The New York Times. 17 May 1985.
  11. "Smorgasbord (Cracking Up). 1983. Directed by Jerry Lewis - MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  12. "Melbourne International Film Festival 2017".
  13. "Melbourne International Film Festival - Archive 1952-2017".
  14. "Melbourne International Film Festival Picks for 2016". Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
  15. "Smorgasbord (1983) -- (Movie Clip) Room Service". Turner Classic Movies.
  16. "Smorgasbord".
  17. "Smorgasbord - Publicity still of Jerry Lewis & Francine York".
  18. "Cracking Up".
  19. "Cracking Up". The New Yorker.
  21. "Cinema Scope - The Great Depression: Jerry Lewis' Last Movies".
  22. "Cinema Scope - Christoph Huber".
  23. Hicks, Chris (22 August 2017). "Chris Hicks: Jerry Lewis was a polarizing comic but showed flashes of genius".
  24. "Jerry Lewis • Smorgasbord • Senses of Cinema".
  26. "About Senses of Cinema • Senses of Cinema".
  27. "First and Last - TCM Backlot".

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