A movie review – how have I got through the last 33 or 34 years without watching ‘The King of Comedy’?
What a delight…that might be the wrong adjective as this is a dark, a black, comedy and it is, at times, excruciating to watch….ok, in the context of masochistic entertainment, MOVIE entertainment, it was an absolute pleasure.
Scorsese – who is in the movie but only in Hitchcockian cameo roles (and, as usual, Mrs. Scorsese Snr has a cameo role….Robert DeNiro’s character, Rupert Pupkin, his unseen, but clearly heard, mother) – he is one heck of a talented director….oh, to hell, I’ll say it, he’s a genius! Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, legendary movies – however, this movie, I’d have thought so ‘left field’ for Scorsese but, just like everything he does, it’s a triumph.
The comedy in the scenes when the astoundingly good Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford is being held captive by DeNiro – Rupert Pupkin (and how that name is played with during the movie – wonderful) – and Sandra Bernhard – Masha, it is magical.
Jerry Lewis is a special, special talent, a superb actor, he gets it SO right. His situation, being held captive, a gun at his head, is dire and yet his dry responses to De Niro and Bernhard, his facial expressions, his exasperation, so so funny. That scene when De Niro/Pupkin wants a sweet, De Niro:
“You know, there’s no reason to get mad about it, I’m just trying to ease the tension, even though this is a kind of strange situation, there are moments of friendship and I don’t know if you call it sharing or whatever….”
….how De Niro delivers those lines, terrific!
….the cue-card scene when Langford is on the phone to Bert….great comedy!
…and Jerry, all tied up, covered with masking tape, dire but very, very funny!!
As for Sandra Bernhard, she is, for me, a revelation. She is a joy to watch. She’s great – I love the line, when she’s holding the gun to Jerry’s head:
“Am I going to stand holding this thing until next Shavuos” – it is a great line, so ‘flip’ in the context of such tension, it’s clever….. and particularly apt considering the time of year!
…and the candle-lit dinner, her and the taped-up Jerry, that’s an exquisite scene…Bernhard – Masha – sweeping everything off the table and singing “Come Rain or Come Shine” – she is gloriously menacing (how she talking so lovingly about the crystal glasses and then smashes one!!), bonkers and very, very sexy (in a way that I had never found her before).
But there is a serious, real life, non-comedic side to this movie.
Although De Niro goes off the deep end, we sympathise with him and his situation – we applaud not so much his methods, of course, but his determination, his focus, his self-belief. He simply won’t take “no” for an answer. He is rejected at every turn, perceived as no more than a pain in the proverbial, but he keeps coming back and we want him to succeed (I won’t spoil the movie by saying how it ends). In that sense, this movie is fresh and will resonate with thousands – millions – of people in all walks of life just as much today as it did in 1982. How he sits in his bedroom, a guy supposed to be, I guess, in his late 30’s, 40’s, living at home, pretending to be a funny chat show host, cardboard cut-outs of Jerry Lewis (Langford) and Liza Minnelli, that over-the-top laugh – GUFFAW!! – his mum screaming at him to keep the noise down, such a sad, ‘nebuchal’, situation and yet so inspiring and laudable, such determination.
….and he’s good….Rupert Pupkin has a great act as a stand-up comic and there’s the other sadness, that, out there, there is an ocean of talent, brilliance, genius that will go through life anonymously….sad for those with the talent, tragic for those who make the effort but don’t get there, but also sad for all of us who will never get to see that talent.
We also see, in Jerry Lewis’ ‘Jerry Langford’, the not-so-glamorous side of the world of stardom. Langford, a composite of Carson, Leno, Letterman et al, loved, respected, admired, powerful, is a man right at the top, but tortured by the pressure:
“I’m just a human being, with all of the foibles and all of the traps….the show, the pressure, the groupies, the autograph hounds….the crew, the incompetence…those, behind-the-scenes, you think are your friends….you’re not sure if you’ll be there tomorrow, because of their incompetence.
…..there are wonderful pressures that make every day a glowing, radiant day in your life.”
He also seems to be lonely. We get no sense of anyone else living in his palatial home, just the staff. That’s the prize??? That was what all the striving was for?? That’s what’s at the end of the rainbow for Pupkin?$#@! More a punishment than a prize!!
Such irony: De Niro’s Pupkin striving for the pot of gold at the end of the Hollywood rainbow when he can see, or could see if only he would really look at Langford, that there isn’t any gold there. Pupkin wants to be what he thinks Langford is but THAT Langford, the one in Pupkin’s dream word, is just that, part of a dream. There is no gold at the end of that rainbow.
And I must just add this, Shelley Hack (Cathy in the movie), she is stunning!!!
Anyway, ‘The King of Comedy’ – GREAT movie – see it if you haven’t already….