The King of Comedy Blu-ray Review
“And now, from New York, THE JERRY LANGFORD SHOW!”
Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, in the first movie he appeared in without also directing since 1969’s HOOK, LINE & SINKER) has the most popular late-night talk show in the country. He has millions of viewers and fans, and dozens of them outside of the studio in hopes of snagging an autograph or a picture. One of the “regulars” is Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro, in his fifth pairing with director Martin Scorsese), who wants much, much more than something he can frame.
After one show, Rupert manages to squeeze through the mass of hounds and weasels his way into Langford’s limousine. “My name is Rupert Pupkin,” he tells him. “I know the name doesn’t mean very much to you, but it means an awful lot to me.” Rupert has dreams of making his name in stand-up comedy and expects Langford to give him his big break, just as (as Rupert reminds him) Jack Parr did for him years ago. Fast forward to dinner some months later and Langford begging Rupert to stand in for him. This, of course, is a fantasy, and Rupert is merely in his mother’s home speaking to air.
Rupert starts calling his secretary, but is told Langford is in meetings. So he starts visiting the studio, only to be shot down again. It only makes sense, then, for Rupert to start paying visits to Langford’s home. It’s there that Langford lays it straight: “I told you to call to get rid of you!” And so Rupert does what any psychopath would do: he, along with the equally obsessive Masha (Sandra Bernhard, whose first stand-up record would be released two years later), kidnaps Langford.
By 1983, De Niro had played a number of unstable characters for Scorsese that felt like they could go off at any second: there was Johnny Boy in MEAN STREETS, Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER and Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL. But Rupert Pupkin stands out. He has a warm smile and a nerdy enough wardrobe that make him seem almost childish; and it’s precisely that that makes him so scary.
Through Rupert, THE KING OF COMEDY is a demonstration of the dangers not just of celebrity and fame, but of those who want a piece of it and think it will complete them. Although John Lennon had been shot and killed by a fan just three years earlier, THE KING OF COMEDY’s story was a bit more outlandish at the time. Now, names like Selena and Rebecca Schaeffer seem inevitable in the discussion.
Yes, the film is purposely over-the-top and plays for jokes, but it is about as black as a comedy can get without knocking off any of its characters. (This is Scorsese’s first black comedy; he would later play in the genre in 1985’s AFTER HOURS and 2013’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.)
The screenplay (by Paul D. Zimmerman, who won a BAFTA Award for his work) is filled with incredibly sharp lines (delivered by the cast with expert precision), and it remains one of the funniest of its decade. But its message is deep and relevant. This is a movie about delusions and the loaded guns that can come with them, and an examination of why some would take the phrase, “Better to be king for a knight than schmuck for a lifetime” to an extreme.
THE KING OF COMEDY BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. THE KING OF COMEDY has been cleaned up nicely for its Blu-ray debut. While the image never dazzles and is soft on occasion, it still offers a very clean image with fine details, colors and textures.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0; Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0; French Dolby Digital 1.0. Subtitle in English and Spanish. The audio transfer features clear dialogue and an overall natural atmosphere.
Tribeca Film Festival: A Conversation with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis (29:50): In this 2013 interview session, Scorsese, De Niro and Lewis (who comes I about halfway through) discuss how the film came to be and the overall production.
A Shot at the Top: The Making of THE KING OF COMEDY (18:57): This featurette (included on the initial DVD release) uses clips and interviews (with Scorsese and Sandra Bernhard) to give an overview of the movie’s production.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (37:59): There are eight here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Jerry Langford’s Monologue,” “Rupert Visits Rita at Work (Extended),” “Rupert and Rita’s First Date (Extended),” “Rupert’s Dream Spot on Jerry’s Show,” “Masha’s Letter to Jerry,” “An Engagement Ring,” “Jerry’s House” and “Ten Dollars.”