Retro: The Unquiet American

The King of Comedy

Martin Scorsese
USA 1983
109 min

I was slow to appreciate this masterpiece, which I now regard as Martin Scorsese’s best feature, and I credit Wim Wenders for convincing me that there was far more going on in this movie than I was ­initially prepared to see. Perhaps the key to this creepy fable about the American obsession with celebrity and media comes in the climactic comic monologue of Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), brimming with self-hatred and shame about his family and his nondescript suburban/ethnic background, which in a way all of the preceding film prepares us for. The script by Paul D. Zimmerman, a onetime film critic at “Newsweek”, manages to be both non-specific and spot-on about everything that separates the haves from the have-nots – a subject Scorsese seems to know like the back of his hand, and one made all the more complex by the fact that it’s often hard to ­separate the privileged from the deprived in this film (a fact spelled out by another troubling climax, the confrontation between Jerry Lewis and Sandra ­Bernhard). Interestingly enough, this seems to qualify as a collective expression (such as, for instance, <![CDATA[<i>]]>Gilda<![CDATA[</i>]]>) rather than an auteurist testament. It was apparently De Niro’s fascination with the script and his character that brought the film into being more than Scorsese’s own engagement with the material, and Lewis’s contributions to his own part may be just as telling. With Diahnne Abbott (the real-life Mrs. De Niro) in what may be her best role.

This film is screened together with <filmlink id=\"3119\">What’s Opera, Doc?</filmlink>.

  • Robert De Niro - Michael
  • Jerry Lewis
  • Diahnne Abbott
  • Sandra Bernhard
  • Shelley Hack
  • Ed Herlihy
  • Paul D. Zimmerman
  • Fred Schuler
  • Frank Warner
  • Rebecca Einfeld
  • Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Robbie Robertson
  • Mark Del Costello
  • Lawrence Miller
  • Edward Pisoni
  • Richard Bruno
  • Arnon Milchan
Embassy International Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
35 mm
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