Cinderfella

Cinderella gets gender-swapped in this 1960 comedy about a put-upon housekeeper called Fella (Jerry Lewis), a name unnecessary for the title to work. You might as well call him Jupiter.

Brimming with joy, heart and invention, Cinderfella is closer to Shrek 2 than Jupiter Ascending, modernising the setting and changing enough details to keep the Cinderella story fresh while leaving the moral intact. It doesn’t dispel the contradiction at the heart of the fairytale, where the lesson is that money and status aren’t important but the happy ending is marriage into royalty and therefore wealth, but it gets there more charmingly than It’s a Wonderful Life.

This is largely down to Fella’s bumbling innocence, which avoids the potential creepiness of making Cinderella a man. Lewis displays his full comic range in the role, from physical comedy to vocal ticks, singing, dancing and even miming along to Count Basie’s Orchestra. The sequence in which he goes to the ball (in a car that was his bike, driven by a chauffeur that was a fish) contains a performance so energetic it left Lewis hospitalised for four days, ultimately delaying filming for two weeks. Talk about a showstopper.

The movie shows its age in some of its gender politics (Fella is given the Cinderella treatment so men can get even for “centuries of female abuse”) and in the superior quality of its production. As in most Golden Age comedies, there’s a level of characterisation, storytelling and gag-writing missing from present-day Hollywood, with great attention paid to the elaborate sets and costumes.

A morality tale about love and decency triumphing over wealth, Cinderfella is funny, touching and romantic, showcasing the talents of a comedy legend who’ll be remembered forever after.

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