Monday, May 30, 2016

The King of Comedy

A movie I watched over the weekend that does seem to be avaliable (and in print) on DVD and Blu-Ray is The King of Comedy. Due to that availability, I feel comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie.

Jerry Lewis plays Jerry Langford, who is the most popular late-night TV talk show host in the country. His New York-based show is so popular that he's got a whole bunch of groupies who crowd the entrance to the studio where he does the show. One evening as he comes out of the studio after a show, not only are they mobbed at the entrance; one of the fans, Masha (Sandra Bernhard) has somehow gotten into his car. (How she did this considering there's a chauffeur, is a mystery.) She harasses Jerry, who is unsurprisingly uncomfortable about it. But he's fortunate in that somebody else pulls her out of the car.

That someone is Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), another big fan. Rupert would like to be a stand-up comedian, and to that end has been working on his act, although apparently he's never actually done stand-up in front of a live audience. Indeed, he lives with his mother over in New Jersey, and does his routines in front of a cardboard audience, as well as doing stuff on a cardboard version of the Jerry Langford Show set. Still, he tells Jerry about his dream, and even tries to get an audience with Jerry for a possible audition to appear on the show. Jerry, basically to get the guy away from him, says to call his secretary at the office.

Rupert, pushy and deluded blankety-blank that he is, goes to the Langford offices and says he already has an appointment to see Jerry, which is of course not true. Given the difficult task of dealing with Rupert and getting him to just go away is Jerry's personal assistant Cathy (Shelley Hack), who eventually takes an audition tape from Rupert and says she'll listen to it. A few days later back at the office, Cathy tells him the tape wasn't good enough, and to get some experience on the stand-up circuit.

Hell hath no fury like a groupie scorned. Or two groupies scorned. Rupert has been telling Masha he has an in with Jerry. Well, not just Masha, but also Rita (Diahnne Abbott), a girl he knew from high school. Indeed, Rupert has been so pushy that he takes Rita to Jerry's house out on Long Island for the weekend, something which Jerry obviously didn't approve of. Eventually, Rupert is unable to take the rejection, and comes up with a plan: he and Masha will kidnap Jerry, and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to appear on the Jerry Langford Show. And they'll keep him hostage until the show actually goes over the air.

The King of Comedy, despite its title, isn't really a comedy. There are some comic moments, but in general it's more of a drama than a comedy. It's a movie I found difficult to watch at times, if only because the Rupert Pupkin is written to be such an arrested-development case that I just wanted to reach through the screen and smack him upside the head. He's an utter jerk, and at times unsympathetic. Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, is excellent. He's nothing like the manic character he played in all those comedies with Dean Martin, and then throughout the 1960s. He's restrained and in some ways bitter, and plays it very well. Bernhard is also quite good, although I think her character is a bit underused.

Also making the movie worth watching are the cameos. Ed Herlihy plays himself as Jerry Langford's announcer. Fred De Cordova, who was the director on The Tonight Show, plays the producer of the Jerry Langford Show. Tony Randall gets to play himself as a substitute host for Jerry's show, and gets to do his stickler for elegance thing. Joyce Brothers also appears, as does Liza Minnelli (I think it's just her voice, although we see a cardboard cutout of her on Rupert's set).

If you haven't seen The King of Comedy before, I can highly recommend it.

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