Quirky Jerky: Jerry Lewis in THE BELLBOY (Paramount 1960)

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The late, great Jerry Lewis was not just a funny man, he was an innovative filmmaker whose talents behind the cameras matched his onscreen antics. Paramount Pictures gave him carte blanche on THE BELLBOY, his first film as producer/director/writer/star, a film with “no story, no plot, just a series of silly sequences” following the misadventures of Stanley, the world’s most inept bellboy. To the best of my knowledge it is the first of its kind… even W.C. Fields’ bizarre NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK and Olsen & Johnson’s wacky HELLZAPOPPIN’ had some semblance of loose plot foisted on them by nervous studio execs!

Lewis was doing his nightclub act at Miami’s Fontainebleu Hotel at the time, and already had CINDERFELLA in the can. Paramount wanted a summer release, but Lewis thought the film would do better in the Christmas season, so he concocted this loose, madcap romp done…

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The Day the Clowns All Cried: RIP Jerry Lewis

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Jerry Lewis is an acquired taste for many. His unique comic persona isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially among the highbrow set (except in France, where for decades he’s been hailed as a genius). He was zany, manic, childlike, and the last of the great slapstick comedians, his career spanning over eighty years. He was a comic, writer, director, actor, singer, businessman, innovator, and philanthropist. Jerry Lewis is a true American icon, and the embodiment of the American  dream.

Joseph Levitch was one of those “born in a trunk” kids referenced in many a classic movie. His father was a vaudevillean, his mom a piano player, and by the time he was five Lewis was appearing with his parents onstage at Catskill Mountain resorts. A high school dropout, Lewis did what was known as a “record act” as a teen, where he’d lipsynch popular tunes of the day with comic results. During…

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Film Review: The King of Comedy (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Oh my God, do y’all want to see a really great film?

Then you need to do what I did earlier tonight.  You need to sit down and watch Martin Scorsese’s 1983 media satire, The King of Comedy.

Want to know more about The King of Comedy?  Then read on!  But be aware that there are spoilers in the review below!

The King of Comedy tells the story of … well, it actually tells the story of several people.  On the one hand, it’s the story of Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis, who gives a performance that is so good that you might even forget that he directed The Day The Clown Cried), a comedian who has his own late night talk show.  Jerry is a celebrity, the type who is mostly famous for being himself.  He makes his living by interviewing people at night but, in his daily life, he struggles to interact with the world at large.  Whenever Jerry steps outside, people start yelling at him.  When he walks away from one elderly fan, she responds by screaming insults at him.  If Jerry seems to be paranoid, it’s because he has good reason to be.

For instance, Masha (a chillingly unhinged performance from Sandra Bernhard) is obsessed with him.  When we first see Masha, she is jumping inside of Jerry’s limousine and refusing to leave.  When she finally gets a chance to be alone with her idol, her manner alternates between desire and hostility.  She may love Jerry but she could just as easily kill him.

And then there’s Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro).  Rupert is the character who brings Jerry and Masha together.  He’s a stand-up comedian, the self-described “king of comedy.”  He’s convinced that he can be a star if he can just get on Jerry’s show.  Rupert spends his time imagining the great friendship that he and Jerry could have, if only Jerry would let him on TV.  In his mind, he plays out the scene in which Jerry begs Rupert to take over the show.  Of course, in reality, Rupert lives in his mother’s basement and is surrounded by card-board cutouts of celebs that he will never meet.  When we first see Rupert, his only real skill seems to be the ability to get on everyone’s last nerve.

It’s a little hard to believe now but, when De Niro started his career, he almost exclusively played fuck-ups.  True, he may have won an Oscar for playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II.  But even while he was playing Vito, he was also playing the erratic and perpetually in debt Johnny Boy in Mean Streets.  In Taxi Driver, he was the delusional Travis Bickle and, in Raging Bull, he was a boxer who managed to alienate just about everyone in the world before finally ending up as an obese self-parody.  But, out of all the fuck-ups that the young(ish) Robert De Niro played, perhaps none was a bigger fuck-up than Rupert Pupkin.

Rupert Pupkin is a character whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make other people cringe with embarrassment.  He is the type of guy who will always come on too strong and say the wrong thing.  Even when Rupert manages to meet Jerry, he is so annoying that Jerry can barely wait to get away from him.  He is the type who asks if you want to see a picture of his “pride and joy” and then shows you a picture of two bottles of dishwashing liquid.  It undoubtedly took some courage to so fully commit to such an off-putting character but that’s exactly what De Niro did.  Rupert is perhaps one of the most annoying characters in cinematic history and yet, perhaps because he’s played by Robert De Niro, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.  You never exactly like him.  But you can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him.  He is just so clueless!

Of course, what Rupert lacks in common sense, he makes up for in ambition.  He truly believes that he’s destined to be the king of comedy and if he and Masha have to kidnap Jerry Langford for that to happen, so be it.  It is perhaps not surprising that Rupert and Masha would kidnap Jerry and threaten to kill him unless Rupert is invited to appear on the show.  What is surprising is the fact, once we finally see Rupert’s act, we discover that it’s not as bad as we were expecting:

Apparently, when the film was first released, there was some controversy over whether or not Rupert actually appeared on TV and became a star or if it was just another of his delusions.  What’s funny is that there wouldn’t be any controversy today.  In 1983, the idea of someone going to such extremes to be famous may have seemed over-the-top.  In 2016, however, we all know Rupert would eventually end up with his own reality show.  In its way, The King of Comedy is one of the most prophetic films ever made.

The King of Comedy is a great film that, even after all these years, still deserves to be seen.  In fact, it’s probably even more relevant today than when it was first released.



10 Films I Must See Before I Die

I love movies.  I love watching movies, reading about movies, and talking about movies.  Perhaps most of all, I love the hunt.  I love discovering movies or finding movies that had previously, for me, only existed in reviews or as a collection of screen captures.  To me, there is no greater experience the watching a movie for the first time.  (Even if, as often happens, that first time turns out to be the only time.)  Listed below are ten movies that I have yet to see but desperately hope to at some point in my life. 

1)  Giallo a Venzia (1979) — This is supposedly one of the most graphically depraved Italian horror films ever made.  If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.  Actually, I haven’t heard a single good thing about this movie but it has still become something of a Holy Grail in my quest to see as much Italian horror as possible.  This is largely because the movie is nearly impossible to find.  When it was first released, it was banned in the UK as part of the so-called “video nasties” scare.  (Trust the English to not only ban a movie but to come up with an annoying name for doing so in the process.)   This led to it never really getting much of a release in the English-speaking world and, now years later, it’s only available on bootleg DVDs.  As such, I imagine that if I ever do see it, it’ll be because I made a deal in a back alley with some bald guy who speaks with a Russian accent.  Much as with drug prohibition, the fact that its “forbidden” has made this movie rather attractive.

The few people who have seen this always mention that towards the end of the movie, Mariangela Giordano’s legs are graphically sawed off.  This makes sense as Giordano was always meeting grotesque ends in Italian horror movies.  In Patrick Lives Again, she is impaled (through her vagina no less) by a fireplace poker while in Burial Ground, she makes the mistake of breast feeding her zombie son.  In many ways, Giordano was like a female Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  However, its odd to consider that while the sight of Giordano’s legs getting sawed off was enough to get the film banned, the sight of poker being graphically driven into her crotch was apparently totally acceptable.  Censorship is a strange thing, no?

One last reason I want to see this movie — its filmed in Venice.  When I was in Italy, I fell in love with Venice.  (I also fell in love with a tour guide named Luigi but that’s another story.)

2) An uncut version of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) — This is another banned Italian movie.  When Nightmares was originally released, Tom Savini was credited as being behind the special effects.  Savini, however, has long claimed to have had little to nothing to do with the movie.  As Savini, to his credit, has never been embarrassed to claim ownership for his effects (regardless of the movie they appear in), I’m inclined to believe him.

In many ways, Nightmares reminds me of a film that Savini actually did work on, Maniac.  Not so much as far as the plot is concerned but just in the same bleak worldview and almost palpable sleaze that seems to ooze from every scene.  The version that is most widely available on DVD (and the one that I own) appears to be the cut version that was eventually okayed for release in the UK and even cut, this is a film that remains oddly compelling in just how much its willing to immerse itself in sleaze.  The uncut version remains elusive but someday, I will find it.

3) The Day The Clown Cried (1972) — You knew this one was coming, didn’t you?  I think everyone wants to see Jerry Lewis’s never released Holocaust comedy.  Supposedly, Lewis keeps the movie in a locked vault which I just find to be oddly hilarious.  My hope is that, if nothing else, some enterprising filmmaker will make a movie about a crack team of thieves who break into Jerry Lewis’s estate just to steal the only copy of The Day The Clown Cried and sell it to the people at Anchor Bay.  Jerry could play himself.  I also think this film will see the light of day sooner or later.  At some point, either Jerry Lewis or his estate is going to need the money.

4) The Other Side of the Wind — Orson Welles apparently spent the last few decades of his life making this movie.  At the time of his death, the movie was reportedly 95% film but only 40% edited.  Apparently, because of a whole lot of complicated legal things, the movie has spent the last 30 years under lock and key in Iran.  Even if somebody could rescue it, the remaining footage still needs a strong hand to put it together.  While I’m sure that many directors would be happy to volunteer to provide that hand, the two names most frequently mentioned — Peter Bogdonavich and Henry Jaglom — do not fill me with confidence.  I’d rather see the final film put together by Jess Franco, who was assistant director on Chimes at Midnight.

5) The Fantastic Four (1994) — This is not the dull movie that came out in 2005.  This apparently an even duller version of the same film that was made 11 years earlier for legal reasons.  Apparently, Roger Corman would have lost the movie rights to the comic book if he didn’t start production on a film by a certain date.  So, this film was made on the cheap and then promptly shelved.  My main desire to see it comes from the same morbid desire that makes me look at crime scene photos.  How bad can it be?

6) Le Cinque Giornate (1973) — This Italian film is apparently many things.  It’s a comedy.  It’s a historical epic.  It’s a satire of then contemporary Italian politics.  And most of all, it’s also apparently the only non-horror film directed by Dario Argento.  This was Argento’s fourth  film, coming after his celebrated animal trilogy and it was apparently an attempt, on Argento’s part, to break away from the giallo genre that he has since come to symbolize.  Though the film apparently did well enough in Italy, it failed to establish Argento as a director of comedy and that’s probably for the best as Argento’s fifth film would be the classic Deep Red.  Still, it’s hard not to play the “What If?” game, especially when it involves an iconic a figure as Dario Argento.  It’s also interesting to compare Argento’s attempts to go from horror to comedy with the career of Lucio Fulci, who went from comedy to horror.

7) Cocksucker Blues (1972) — Robert Frank’s documentary of the Rolling Stone touring America was officially unreleased because of its title.  While that title certainly played a role, it also appears that the film was unreleased because of just how much hedonism Frank managed to capture backstage.  The Stones apparently went to the court to block the film’s release.  Somehow, this resulted in a ruling that the movie can only be shown if Robert Frank is physically present.  Mr. Frank, if you’re alive and reading this, you have an open invitation to come down to Texas and stay with me anytime you want.  Seriously.

8 ) The Profit (2001) — The Profit is a satiric film about a cult.  The film’s cult is known as The Church of Scientific Spiritualism and is led by a recluse named L. Conrad Powers.  Sound familiar?  The film’s release was (and continues to be) prevented by a lawsuit brought by the Church of Scientology.  Say what you will about the Vatican, at least you can attack them in a movie without having to worry about getting sued or blown up.

9) Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) — Probably one of the most famous film that most of us will never see, Superstar tells the story of Karen Carpenter through the use of Barbie dolls.  Director Todd Haynes supposedly failed to get the rights to the music he used in the film and, obviously enough, nobody in the Carpenter camp was all the eager to give him permission. 

9) Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness (1969) — God, don’t you hate that title?  And, honestly, are you surprised that a film with that title is apparently history’s 1st X-rated musical?  Anyway, this is a movie I’ve come across in various film reference books where it’s either described as a masterpiece or (more often) one of the worst movies ever made.  Myself, I love musicals and if the musical numbers are mixed in with explicit sex — well, why not?  But that title — that title just gives me a bad feeling.  Another thing that gives me a bad feeling is that the movie was apparently the brainchild of Anthony Newley.  I don’t know much about Mr. Newley but what I do know seems to indicate that he personified everything that most people hate about musicals.  The film is apparently autobiographical and its about a really talented composer who treats the women in his life terribly but has a lot of reasons (or excuses) that we learn about in elaborate flashbacks and — wait, I’ve seen this movie.  Oh wait, that was Nine.  Anyway, Merkin was a huge flop and it has never been released on any type of video format.  Yet, it has not been forgotten which can only mean that it must have really traumatized the critics who saw it.  In other words, this is another one of my “how-bad-can-it-be” crime scene movies.

10) The uncut, original, 9-hour version of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) — A girl can dream, can’t she?