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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/5/03

The King of Comedy
1983 (2002) - Embassy International (20th Century Fox)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The King of Comedy Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/C+

Specs and Features

109 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 61:16, between chapters 14 and 15), A Shot At The Top: The Making of The King of Comedy featurette, 2 deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, Canadian TV spot, still gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 Stereo and Mono) and French (Mono), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Ask most film fans what their favorite Martin Scorsese movies are and you'll likely get answers that include such familiar titles as Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and Raging Bull. Not me. As great as those movies are, the three Scorsese pictures that have the most resonance for me personally are among his least known. My picks are Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, After Hours and The King of Comedy. I'm not just being obstinate or different for the sake of being different in picking these three. If I were doing that, I'd choose Kundun or New York, New York. It's just that I find more to relate to in these three obscurities than in movies about mobsters, boxers or psychotically obsessed cab drivers.

So far, the only one of my top three to find its way to DVD is The King of Comedy. Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe standup comic who lives a vivid fantasy life in his mother's basement, dreaming of superstardom and surrounded by cardboard cutouts of stars like Liza Minnelli and talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). In Rupert's world, fame is a given that will simply be handed to him on a silver platter as soon as Langford gives him that one big break. He has no interest in actually working his way up to the top. As far as he's concerned, he's already there. The rest of us just haven't realized it yet. Ultimately, Rupert comes to recognize that Jerry isn't going to give him that break. So he takes matters into his own hands and makes his shot happen himself.

If anything, The King of Comedy is more relevant today than it was when originally released in 1983. Ask anyone and they'll be able to rattle off a list a mile long of people who are famous for no particular reason. Perhaps the only thing that's changed is that these days, Rupert's cohort, obsessed Langford fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard) would now become at least as famous as Rupert himself in the aftermath of their plot.

Besides being eerily prescient, The King of Comedy boasts a wide range of outstanding performances. De Niro is fantastic as Rupert and Jerry Lewis makes the most of one of the best roles of his career. Often in a film like this, the script would avoid showing Rupert's routine or make him look unbelievably terrible. Interestingly enough, The King of Comedy shows Rupert's performance on The Jerry Langford Show in its entirety. And while he certainly lacks polish, he's not awful. The laughs he gets are genuine, so it's easy to believe that he'd become an overnight sensation. While The King of Comedy lacks the flashy camerawork of some of Scorsese's other films, it's still unmistakably a Martin Scorsese picture. The images of Rupert performing to a wall of frozen black-and-white audience members are unforgettable and the city of New York is every bit as much of a character in this movie as in Taxi Driver.

Fox's release of The King of Comedy is something of a pleasant surprise. The film itself looks and sounds fine, certainly not reference quality but better than some other movies of this vintage. Considering that this is a movie virtually nobody was clamoring to see released on DVD, the fact that the disc boasts any bonus material at all is impressive. Usually movies like this are lucky to get a trailer. King of Comedy gets a brand-new, albeit too short, making-of featurette consisting basically of new interviews with Scorsese and Bernhard. Also included is a pair of deleted scenes, the most interesting of which is the complete take of Jerry Langford's show opening monologue. Shot on video, it's a pleasure to see Lewis throwing himself into the role with such enthusiasm. The disc also includes a still gallery and a trailer and Canadian TV spot, both of which do an abominable job of selling the film.

Given how much I love this movie, you'd think I'd be disappointed by this scant handful of extras. Actually, I'm not. For once, I think Fox got it right. While it's a personal favorite of mine, I'm realistic enough to recognize that The King of Comedy is a relatively minor Martin Scorsese movie. The making of this movie probably wasn't all that terribly interesting or unusual. Even a commentator as verbose and interesting as Martin Scorsese would be hard-pressed to make a consistently compelling audio commentary for this movie. The quality of the extras included is consistently high and the quantity is perfectly in keeping with the movie's importance. Fox included what they could and didn't bother to include stuff that would be tangential, repetitive or dull.

All things considered, I'm extremely pleased with The King of Comedy on DVD. Fans of Scorsese and/or De Niro should definitely pick this up without hesitation. I'd like to think that After Hours and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore will get similarly respectful releases on disc. But seeing as they're owned by Warner Bros., whose discs tend to be all-or-nothing in terms of bonuses, I have my doubts.

Adam Jahnke

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