Starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott.
Written by Paul D. Zimmerman.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
In 1983, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese had already collaborated on four films together, culminating in De Niro’s Oscar for Raging Bull in 1980. This dynamite team had been at the forefront of the groundbreaking decade of cinema known as the 1970s, and when they made The King Of Comedy in ‘83, the pair had reached a level of singular sophistication in their method and delivery, all the while maintaining the gritty rawness they began with Mean Streets. King is one of their best films, yet strangely enough, I recall Scorsese himself once stating in an interview that he loathed making it. This is subtly evident in the movie, which at times is very “un-Scorsese” in its presentation (although, this could also be attributed to the films’ speedy production). It has little of the flair that permeates the great directors’ other work, notably the aforementioned Bull, GoodFellas and Taxi Driver to name a few. Therefore, so inherent to the films’ success is Paul D. Zimmerman’s script, and two legendary performances from De Niro and Jerry Lewis. Never has there been such an excruciating screen character as De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin, blessed with an unfortunate (and often mispronounced) surname and a somewhat deluded sense of his own talent. Living in a fantasy world in his mother’s basement, Rupert yearns for comic fame but has no idea of what would be considered “proper channels”. Hustling his way into the limousine of TV talk show host Jerry Langford (Lewis), Rupert is given some heartfelt advice by the aging star and agrees to hear a tape of Rupert’s act. But after being politely rejected by the network upon hearing his tape, Rupert decides that the only way to get ahead in life is to grab it by the balls. And that means kidnapping Langford with the help of a star-struck friend, and blackmailing his way onto the tube. This crazed black comedy is not only a string of hilarious scenes and uncomfortable moments, but is also a wicked satirical articulation of the pursuit of celebrity. And of course, it features De Niro in some garish, 1970s-reject suits, long before he reinvented the garish suit in Casino.
By Wadrick Jones