Jul 9, 2014

Review: The King of Comedy (1982)

The King of Comedy finds Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaborating for the fifth time. A lot of what happened during the making of this film makes it pretty clear that the two are extremely comfortable working together and just making movie magic. Scorsese gets the best out of the other actors in this film, even with De Niro lending a hand when it came to Jerry Lewis. That's a good partnership if I ever saw one.

Jerry Lewis' role could not be more meta and he plays it with underappreciated prowess. I find it mind boggling and extremely disappointing that The King of Comedy bombed when it was originally released. The world wasn't ready for the grim reality of celebrity chasers I suppose that plays like a gut-wrenching black comedy. It's not an easy film to digest and I'm all the more glad that it isn't.


Genre: comedy, drama
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Robert Greenhut, Robert F. Colesberry
Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
Music by: N/A
Running time: 109 minutes
Production company: Embassy International Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $19,000,000
Box office: $2,536,242 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Ed Herlihy



Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is an autograph hound who's taken a special interest in comedy show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). He wants to be a comedian and have his own show, going to great lengths to create his own basement studio with cardboard cutouts of famous stars. He's 34 though and there's no way he'll be bankable for much longer so he forces his way to come face to face with Jerry Langford to ask him to listen to his material so that he can have a spot on his show. Jerry tell him to give his office a call and they'll arrange something.


Martin Scorsese keeps you on your feet while watching The King of Comedy. De Niro's character has these moments where he's in a fantasyland and it becomes clear that he has trouble distinguishing between the two. This creates some intensely uncomfortable situations that become more and more crushing as the movie goes on. The more you learn about Rupert, the worse you feel for him.

The film is of course very nicely shot with great use of colours and lighting. There's a sequence that happens near the conclusion of the film involving Sandra Bernhard's character Masha using only candlelight that is particularly nice to look at. Martin Scorsese is also adventuresome with his camera and captures things in an interesting way.

Robert De Niro is particularly good in his role as Pupkin and oddly likeable. The real underrated gem though is Jerry Lewis as I had said before. There are some moments where he's not saying anything at all but the fear or anger on his face really come out. The world of celebrity stalkers isn't a pretty one and Sandra Bernhard along with Robert De Niro really demonstrate that. Bernhard's character is frightfully scary and definitely not someone I would want to spend an hour with, let alone an evening alone with her.

The more you watch The King of Comedy, the clearer things get in regards to Pupkin and who he really is. There are definitely some elements of comedy but the reality of the situation makes it hard to actually laugh. This is a movie about a disillusioned man hitting a roadblock and trying to find his way around it. The performances are great and Scorsese is as reliable as always. The King of Comedy is just way too underrated for how good it really is.



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