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TV Movie Of The Week: The King Of Comedy

Friday 12 October 2012, 12:50

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Each week on the Five Live show we single out the best film on television in the coming week. We never have time to discuss it so I've decided to do it here on the blog. My choice this week is Martin Scorsese's chilling 1983 King Of Comedy

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    Comment number 1.

    100% agree - I've been saying this for years and just get funny looks.

    This and After Hours are horrifically underrated.

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    Comment number 2.

    For those that need the info; it's on Film4 on Wed. 17th October at 9:00pm

    Looking forward to watching it myself.

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    Comment number 3.

    It gives the transmission details on screen at the end of the blog!

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    Comment number 4.

    Yeah, I can barely read it, it's quite scrambled up on my view, so just making it a bit clearer. :)

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    Comment number 5.

    Really love this film, tragic and comic at the same time, and more than that. Very underrated film and performances. De Niro's role here is unexpected and plays it with aplomb (a few years later he'll do another out of type characterisation in the excellent Awakenings). Possibly his best performance or at least up there.

    Maybe the film was unsuccessful because it hit too close to home with the audience and critics. ;)

    Oh, and Sandra Bernhard probably would consider it a compliment to be called grating. In this film, though, as you say, that becomes an asset.

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    Comment number 6.

    I do think it is De Niro's greatest performance. And it is also a film that fully delivers on its promise. We know throughout that we are being set up for Rupert to deliver his comedy monologue and when it finally comes it is both a brilliant piece of writing and direction. The most perfect thing about that sequence is how stunningly mediocre Pupkin's routine is, and it is perfect fulfillment of that character and his actions up until that point in the narrative. It is pitched absolutely perfectly.

    The comment about the film putting Taxi Driver in the shade is interesting but also a tad unfair as The King of Comedy wouldn't exist without Taxi Driver and the two serve as fascinating companion pieces and both work better because the other exists.

    It is an absolutely marvellous piece of work, perhaps the most savage indictment of celebrity culture and the cult of personality ever put on film. A motif which is perfectly captured in Jerry Lewis performance, who is absolutely vile in the role. It is one of Scorsese's crowning works. I still think as achievements in furthering the cinematic language and the influence they had on filmmakers all these years down the line, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver are the 'better' films but King of Comedy is up there with them.

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    Comment number 7.

    A friend of mine wrote this after watching the movie the first time: "One of the things I liked most about the movie is that when we finally hear Pupkin's routine, it's pretty bad, but it's realistically bad: not completely over-the-top bad, but the kind of bad you'd hear from an actual really lame stand-up comic. Jokes about how crummy Passaic, New Jersey is. And he actually gets a few chuckles from dimwits in the audience."

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    Comment number 8.

    Along with After Hours, this is by far the most underrated of Scorsese's films, and unfortunately, the overlooked one out of the eight films he made with DeNiro. For my money, DeNiro's Rupert Pupkin is just as unnerving and creepy as his Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta. Whereas Bickle and LaMotta expressed their violence, both physical and psychological, through their lack of words, Pupkin does so through his gregarious and extroverted nature; but all three are equally violent men. Pupkin doesn't mean to be the way he is; he is programmed to respond to the media's bigging up of celebrities, and can't see through the facade. Today's society is literally a sea of Rupert Pupkins, which makes the film extraordinarily prescient for something made over thirty years ago. It always gets under my skin in a way that Raging Bull, for all its awards and technical brilliance, fails to do. That scene at Jerry's house in which Rupert gatecrashes never fails to make me cringe and sink into my armchair. The scary thing is, we're on Rupert's side, and we loathe the smug, self-loathing Jerry (the man who sits at dinner with his back to the city, and looks down on people like the common man; ie...Jerry). It's a scary film, and frighteningly funny. In fact, its one of my favourite films of a pretty lousy decade in film...

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    Comment number 9.

    I do agree that this one of the best collaborations between Scorsese & De Niro, vastly underrated.
    But is the fact that it is underrated the reason why Mark has put it right at the top.
    If the roles were reversed and Taxi Driver was the one no one spoke about, what then Dr K ?

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    Comment number 10.

    I've been telling my friends for years to seek out this film. Everyone knows the Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas. This one (a box office flop, just like raging bull at the time it came out, i think) is sadly a very, very overlooked piece - almost forgotten by younger audiences particularly.
    It is certainly one of my favorites of Scorsese and even though it is a (bittersweet) comedy it fits Scorsese's track record so perfectly with a great DeNiro as the obsessive wannabe comedian who desperately searches for his place. Just great.

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    Comment number 11.

    I have been flying the flag for this film for absolutely ages and whenever I mention it in conversation, most people look at me like I'm going mad. I adore this film. Great performances from everyone involved and it has aged spectacularly well into today's celebrity obsessed culture.

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    Comment number 12.

    I think this is a gem of a movie, II think its up there with the classic scorsese. I think Pupkin is a reat performance, however the thign you dont mentiuon is because he is with his then wife ain the film, so there relationship seems realistic. I like the crowd reacion to him saying he had kidnapped the host. I also likethat imagined conversation wand the reality

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    Comment number 13.

    I'm going to have to stop myself from watching it right now on DVD. Undoubtedly brilliant, with a cast at the top of their game and as grim and bleak as Taxi Driver. I would likely rate this as my favourite Scorsese/De Niro film.

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    Comment number 14.

    Excellent underated gem of a film

    I love the scenes where they keep mis-pronouncing his name

    Jerry Lewis is outstanding

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    Comment number 15.

    It's bizarre - i was watching this film last week. It is always a film i return to amongst the obvious heft of other Scorsese classics. You are right to ascribe to the psychopathy in the Robert De Niro character: a zany, unpredictable performance that, makes one feel unnerved at times. It's like Travis Bickle six years later, trying to make a career for himself. "King Of Comedy" to this day is prevelant in the current craze of wanting to obtain immediate fame and recognition. It will always be that gem, along with "The Last Temptation Of Christ" that will remain overlooked.

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    Comment number 16.

    For me King Of Comedy is the improved version of Taxi Driver. Both films are built around a central character who is extremely delusional, naive and is a danger to anyone around him, the problem with Taxi Driver is that it's misunderstood by many people who end up idolizing Travis Bickle, King Of Comedy on the other hand makes its point very efficiently clear.

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    Comment number 17.

    It was the one Scorsese picture I avoided for years based mainly on the negative reviews surrounding the film - I eventually bought a copy on DVD for £3 (thought I'd give it a go) - I completely agree it's Scorsese's masterpiece - I like it head and shoulders above his recognised classics - It gets better every time I've seen it -

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    Comment number 18.

    I suspect many younger viewers new to this film may view Rupert Pupkin differently. Pupkin's mantra through out the film is "better a king for a night, than a schmuck for a lifetime" i wonder how many wannabes would be nodding in agreement. Ultimately Pupkin is a winner here, he gets his moment in the limelight and whilst in prison he writes a bestseller and on his release probably goes on to appear on TV talk shows and is hired as a pundit to talk about celebrity stalkers. In an era when people willingly debase themselves on Jeremy Kyle, i think many would consider a spell in prison a legitimate cost of fame.

    The ending also has parallels with Taxi Driver in which the equally psychotic Travis Bickel becomes a tabloid hero, an irony not lost on scorsese.

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    Comment number 19.

    I do love King of Comedy. It's easily my second favourite Scorsese film alongside Taxi Driver, and even though he's done a lot of great films, it's those two which in my mind ought to sit in the pantheon of the best films of all time. But don't you think you're undercutting Taxi Driver here Mark? Perhaps the fact that Taxi Driver is one of those films which is so massive and so well-respected that it's reputation precedes itself, and you end up knowing half the film before ever watching it thanks to the way it permeates pop culture - similar to The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and Citizen Kane. That is it's only flaw, and it rises above and beyond in a way that other films of it's stature don't.

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    Comment number 20.

    I think to call King of Comedy Scorsese and De Niro's best collaboration is a stretch (for me it's probably Raging Bull which is a near perfect film, with director and star both on top of their game - there's also an argument to be made for Goodfellas, although it's more of an ensemble effort and De Niro takes a back seat for much of the film, so it never really feels like a true Scorsese-De Niro collaboration), however it is certainly a vastly under-rated film. Its portrayal of psychopathy is pitch perfect and deeply unsettling, far more so than Taxi Driver, which at times I felt veered towards pastiche. I long for the days when both De Niro and Scorsese were making films of this calibre.

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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