“The following story is based on a real life case”, intones our sober narrator. “Everything you are about to see is true. It actually happened.” Of course, he says this while emerging from the sea in a soaking wet business suit. Avid angler Gerald Clamson (Jerry Lewis) fishes a semi-conscious scuba diver out of the sea. The dying man tells Gerald a fortune in diamonds is hidden somewhere at the Hotel Yardarm, before being riddled with gunfire. While Gerald flees the scene, ruthless mob boss Thor (Harold J. Stone) finishes the mystery man off with a torpedo! Turns out the dead man was Gerald’s identical double. “Syd Valentine”, reveals the narrator. “Narcotics smuggler, murderer, and female impersonator.”
Having no luck informing the cops, Gerald decides he’ll find the diamonds himself. Unfortunately, his clumsiness outrages manic manager Mr. Hodges (Del Moore), forcing Gerald to disguise himself as an eccentric millionaire and infiltrate Hotel Yardarm. While our hero falls for nice girl Susie Cartwright (Susan Bay), two sets of gangsters start tearing the place apart in search of the stolen loot.
Co-scripted by Lewis and Bill Richmond, The Big Mouth is another of those ‘double’ movies that served the actor-director so well, but does surprisingly little with the concept. Syd Valentine barely figures into the story, although Jerry resurrects his Sherman Klump persona from The Nutty Professor (1963) in his guise as the nerdy millionaire. At this stage there is a sense he is repeating himself, yet if the flimsy plot is structured around a series of skits, at least they’re funny skits.
The scenes where bickering cops blithely ignore Jerry reporting a murder, or his frustrated phone conversations with a dumb telephone operator and chatty customer service guy, are very amusing indeed. Partly because the humour comes from real-life situations everyone can relate to. His tennis lesson at the hands of va-va-voom gangster’s moll Bambi Berman (Jeannine Riley), where slow-motion underlines Gerald’s ineptitude, provides another memorable moment. As does the ridiculous kabuki play (despite mistaking Japanese culture for Chinese) wherein Jerry dons whiteface and fright wig to jabber away in mock Japanese.
As a filmmaker, Lewis is inventive when it comes to staging gags or exploring offbeat angles, yet pacing is a reoccurring problem with his movies. Scenes drag interminably while the stolen diamonds become an irrelevant plot point as the story nosedives into a self-loathing subtext about how “nobody cares” or is willing to listen to poor Jerry. A metaphor for a comedian slowly losing touch with his audience? Still, it results in a hilarious scene, where Jerry pours his heart out to a supposed F.B.I. agent, whom men in white coats promptly carry back to the asylum.
While better looking than most of his later efforts, the production lacks the sparkle of his Paramount era, and fizzles out with a complete non-ending just when it seems to be going somewhere. Nevertheless, this was the last halfway decent film Jerry made until The King of Comedy (1983). Co-star Susan Bay, with whom Lewis had a lengthy romantic relationship, is a bland love interest and the film also introduced Charlie Callas, later a variety show stalwart famous for performing weird sounds. Lookout for George Takei as a clumsy henchman dunked into a vat of boiling chemicals and a surprise cameo from Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken.