The King of Comedy
Time Out saysScorsese and De Niro have been pushing each other so far for so long that audience polarisation now automatically accompanies the risk of their major-league collaboration. The King of Comedy guarantees a split even at the level of expectations: it's definitively not a comedy, despite being hilarious; it pays acute homage to Jerry Lewis, while requiring of the man no hint of slapstick infantilism; its uniquely repellent prize nerd is De Niro himself. The excruciating tone is set by an early freeze-frame of fingernails frantically scraping glass. Flinch here, and you're out, because Scorsese never does while detailing fantasist Rupert Pupkin's squirmily obsessive desperation to crash TV's real-time as a stand-up comic on the Carson-modelled Jerry Langford Show. Buttonholing its star (Lewis), then rebounding from brush-offs to hatch a ludicrous kidnap plot, De Niro's Pupkin isn't merely socially inadequate; he's a whole dimension short - happily rehearsing with cardboard cut-outs, choosing the flatness of videoscreen space for his schmucky jester's tilt at being 'king for a night'. Whereas the film itself is all unexpected dimensions and unsettling excesses, with the ambiguous fulfilment of Pupkin's dream frighteningly echoing the news-headline coda of Taxi Driver. Creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best.
Cast and crew
Jerry Lewis, Ed Herlihy, Catherine Scorsese, Lou Brown, Martin Scorsese, Sandra Bernhard, Robert De Niro, Diahnne Abbott
Paul D Zimmerman