Funnyman Jerry Lewis’ screaming-nincompoop shtick was beyond passé by the time he made the painfully unfunny World War II comedy Which Way to the Front? The film’s barrage of brainless sight gags and witless verbal jokes makes the lowbrow WWII-themed TV series Hogan’s Heroes seem inspired by comparison, because Lewis’ idea of a show-stopping joke is having Adolf Hitler idiotically rhapsodize about the Jewish snacks (e.g,, knishes, etc.) that Eva Braun prepares for him. Worse, Lewis plays the leading role in his typically oppressive manner, mugging nonsensically when his character goes into gibberish-spouting spasms and shouting nearly all of his lines in the second half of the picture, when his character masquerades as a German officer.
However, it’s not as if producer-director Lewis would have done himself any favors by hiring a different star—every single aspect of Which Way to the Front? is as tiresome as Lewis’ performance. The silly story begins when billionaire Brendan Byers (Lewis) gets drafted for Army service—never mind that Lewis was about 43 when he made the picture—only to get classified 4F. Determined to help the war effort, Byers uses his fortune to build a private army comprising a handful of fellow 4F losers. Decked out in anachronistic uniforms that look more late-’60s than mid-’40s (oh, the turtlenecks!), Byers’ militia crosses the Atlantic on his private yacht, breaks into the stronghold of a Nazi officer who resembles Byers, and lures Hitler into an ambush. There isn’t a single worthwhile comedy idea here, and Lewis seems to know it; he often ends scenes by freeze-framing, jacking up big-band music on the soundtrack, and cutting to a bright swirl, Batman-style, as a means of hiding inanity behind momentum. So, need we even discuss the sequence of Byers learning German by listening to the album Music to Mein Kampf By? Or the scene at the end in which Byers masquerades as a Japanese officer by putting on Coke-bottle glasses and gigantic buck teeth?
Inexplicably, Lewis stuck with the WWII theme for his next picture, the notorious unreleased concentration-camp film The Day the Clown Cried. After that production derailed, Lewis was sidelined for several years with health problems, and didn’t return to directing features until the 1981 flop Hardly Working. Given the quality of Which Way to the Front?, he probably should have quit while he was behind. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)
Which Way to the Front?: LAME