Cinematic blind spots, make no mistakes kids we've all got 'em and when you finally strike that blight off of your list it is a pretty special experience and something to truly appreciate because you've never been so happy to feel so stupid for not having watched it year's earlier. Now fully restored and available on Blu-Ray for the very first time, "The King of Comedy" is a darkly sardonic look at the cult of celebrity that is now common place in our society and is easily one of the more underrated films in the canon of one of the greatest directors of all time.
Desperate to be a TV star, struggling stand up comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) desperate for any kind of break he can get enlists the help of his fanatical friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard) to kidnap their comedy idol, veteran talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) with the plans of ransoming him for a guest spot on Langford's show and hopefully to stardom.
In today's pop culture landscape where the value of fame is placed well beyond that of talent in many circumstances, "The King of Comedy" is a deftly sharp satire that was seemingly decades before it's time as it's chronicle of finding that short cut to the top rings true even today.
Coming right on the heels of their work together in "Raging Bull", Martin Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro for what as their fifth collaboration at the time and while the likes of "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver" carry the obvious dramatic weight the people pay attention to there was such a subtle yet visceral tone in this work that is just so electric throughout the film. Scorsese wisely doesn't let the city backdrop or any grand ideas seep into this film and it's genuine brilliance is in it's obvious simplicity; it's about one man, with one singular goal to become a star.
The script from the late Paul Zimmerman who was a critic during the 1960's and 70's was very much progenitor much like Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" to the pop culture landscape that we live in today. It doesn't matter if you are good or bad, only that you are on television dummy. It manages to walk that line between passion, insanity and a cold disconnect that seems to be common place in the realm of show biz. The comedy was sharp, but you aren't busting a gut either, as it is tonally perfect to the story that is being told. It was only one of three scripts of his that were ever produced, but at least this movie about obsession was found by the right person.
Scorsese masterfully directs everyone to their ultimate goal in the film. From beginning to end it is a movie about performances and none are greater than the work from Robert De Niro in one of his first roles where he was tacking comedy.
As Rupert Pupkin, De Niro managed to find that Zen state between delusional goon and desperate starving artist trying to find his break by any means necessary. It is quietly some of the best work he has ever done, since he has to keep the crazy that is Rupert Pupkin just bubbling under the surface and he does a masterful job with it. While Jerry Lewis is essentially playing a variation on himself in this film he embraces the nature of the comedy and pulls from it along with some parallels in his own life that make him the perfect foil to Pupkin and in one of her first on screen roles Sandra Bernhard brings obsessive and crazy to great heights as the wild card in the relationship between Pupkin and Langford. However it all comes back to De Niro as the subtle little nuances that he brings to the role is what really puts it over the top.
A film that is very much a master piece of direction, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro truly breathed life into "The King of Comedy" as a character study of a man who you can't help but be a little afraid of but be rooting for all at the same time.
5 out of 5 stars.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are simply top notch and the special features on this newly remastered disc include a conversation at the Tribeca Film Festival after a screening of the film between Scorsese, De Niro and Jerry Lewis, a look at the making of the film, some deleted and extended scenes and the theatrical trailer.