After Raging Bull was completed, Scorsese thought about retiring from feature films to make documentaries instead because he felt "unsatisfied" and hadn't found his "inner peace" yet. He had purchased the rights of a script by film critic Paul D. Zimmerman. Michael Cimino was first proposed as director but eventually withdrew from the project because of the extended production of Heaven's Gate. Scorsese pondered whether he could face shooting another film, particularly with a looming strike by the Writers Guild of America. Producer Arnon Milchan knew he could do the project away from Hollywood interference by filming entirely on location in New York and deliver it on time with the involvement of a smaller film company.
In the biography/overview of his work, Scorsese on Scorsese, the director had high praise for Jerry Lewis, stating that during their first conversation before shooting, Lewis was extremely professional and assured him before shooting that there would be no ego clashes or difficulties. Scorsese said he felt Lewis' performance in the film was vastly underrated and deserved more acclaim.
Robert DeNiro prepared for Rupert Pupkin's role by developing a "role reversal" technique, consisting in chasing down his own autograph-hunters, stalking them and asking them lots of questions. As Scorsese remembered, he even agreed to meet and talk with one of his longtime stalkers. DeNiro also spent months watching stand-up comedians at work to get the rhythm and timing of their performances right. Fully in phase with his character, he went as far as declining an invitation to dinner from Lewis because "he was supposed to be at his throat and ready to kill him for [his] chance."
According to an interview with Lewis in the February 7, 1983, edition of People magazine, he claimed that Scorsese and De Niro employed method acting tricks, including making a slew of anti-Semitic epithets during the filming in order to "pump up Lewis's anger." Lewis described making the film as a pleasurable experience and noted that he got along well with both Scorsese and De Niro. Lewis said he was invited to collaborate on certain aspects of the script dealing with celebrity life. He suggested an ending in which Rupert Pupkin kills Jerry, but was turned down. As a result, Lewis thought that the film, while good, did not have a "finish." In an interview for the DVD, Scorsese stated that Jerry Lewis suggested that the brief scene where Jerry Langford is accosted by an old lady for autographs, who screams, "You should only get cancer," when Lewis politely rebuffs her, was based on a real-life incident that happened to Lewis. Scorsese said Lewis directed the actress playing the old lady to get the timing right.
Even though Jerry Lewis was basically playing himself in the film, he definitely had a good range. Surprisingly DeNiro took a back seat to Lewis in the film. My favorite scene in the film is near the end when a crazed Sandra Bernhard is trying to seduce Jerry. It was pure film gold. The film originally did not make a lot of money, but in recent years it has developed a big following. The movie also showed that Jerry Lewis was a lot more than the slow man-child that he portrayed in most of his films...
MY RATING: 9 out of 10