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The King of Comedy

One of the best and most cruelly overlooked dark comedies of the 1980s, Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy stars Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a hapless autograph-seeker bordering on celebrity stalker. Also a wannabe comedian, Pupkin is devoted to the study of Johnny Carsonesque talk-show funnyman Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and seizes a chance meeting with his idol to pitch his standup act. Langford dismisses him with a polite "call my office" with no idea of the determination with which Pupkin plans to follow up the dubious invitation. Although The King of Comedy features the bright and inviting aesthetics of a typical comedy — a drastic departure from Scorsese's previous violent Catholic street allegories — the movie's laughs are equaled if not outweighed by simultaneous cringes of pain. Pupkin is every bit the self-obsessed and self-loathing loner as Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle or Raging Bull's Jake LaMotta, he simply dresses funnier and is far more inept at his chosen mode of expression, draping his impotence in the potent comedy of pathos. While the idea of De Niro playing a swaggerless geek at first sounds like deranged miscasting, he pulls it off beautifully by playing it straight. Lewis is also excellent as a famous TV personality who can turn his gift for humor into withering rebuke at a snap. Sandra Bernhard stands out in her first major film role as Rupert's erratic fellow stalker, Masha. The King of Comedy looks great on Fox's DVD in a pretty clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with only a few flecks of source wear, and sounds fine in both the Dolby 2.0 Surround and mono audio mixes. Includes a good 18-minute featurette, "A Shot at the Top," with new Scorsese and Bernhard interviews, two deleted scenes of edited Lewis material, trailers, and a still gallery. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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