Martin Scorsese's 1983 black comedy, "The King of Comedy" is also most probably the 'King of all underrated pictures'!
It is boggles the mind to know that a superb film of such grand qualities could be so mercilessly sidelined by the film-going public and even Scorsese fans for that matter! This film is significantly different in style from the iconic director's earlier works, but it is still one of the most refreshingly unique stories told on screen! Maybe the expectations from people were different, what with it being preceded by one of his masterpieces, "Raging Bull". but hell...it still had Robert De Niro in it, for Christ sakes..and that too in one of his most accomplished performances ever!
De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a struggling stand-up comedian who is waiting for that "big break", as he believes he is really good at his work. So far without luck, Pupkin keeps going to stage-doors to seek autographs from other famous stand-up comics! After trying really hard, he finally manages to strike a first meeting with an established and highly popular stand-up comic, Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Rupert tries to convince him about how good he is and believes that all he needs is one chance and urges Jerry to listen to his work. Jerry seems to show some interest and asks Rupert to get in touch with his secretary.
Elated about his meeting with Jerry, Pupkin starts building castles in the air and indulges in surreal fantasies including various scenarios about how it would be when he is famous..he spends a lot of time at home imagining having conversations with Langford, imagining himself performing to a wide audience, so forth. Meanwhile, he starts bragging to his friend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) about how he met Jerry and they are practically friends and that he is soon gonna be famous.
However, Rupert has to come face to face with the ground reality, when things turn out to be drastically different in real life!
He is initially discouraged by Jerry's secretary on his daily visits who politely keeps sending him back. Even Jerry avoids meeting him personally and asks his staff to get rid of Rupert under some pretext or the other. Refusing to take a hint and call it quits, Rupert finally resorts to drastic measures to get what he seeks....
Paul D. Zimmerman's screenplay is certainly out of league compared to what Scorsese had done thus far with De Niro, but not entirely. The character of Pupkin is just another version, albeit of a much lighter shade of a frustrated loner resorting to extreme behaviour, earlier depicted in the form of Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver". But of course, the dark comedy of "The King of Comedy" is miles apart from the bleak, hard-hitting drama of "Taxi Driver"; yet as far as the subject handling is concerned, this film succeeds just as well as any other great Scorsese film in terms of story-telling.
Sure enough, Scorsese's direction is nothing short of brilliant and is in no way any weaker compared to his earlier directing efforts. There are some remarkably well executed scenes which are quite unforgettable.
Robert De Niro portrays one of the best on-screen characters he has ever portrayed and delivers one of his greatest performances..yes, you read it right! This acting performance of his is right up there in terms of sheer sincerity and talent, with his Jake La Motta or his Travis Bickle or even the early Johnny Boy!
Comedian Jerry Lewis pleasantly surprises with a great performance as the famous man fed up with the adulation of this particular fan. He proves that he can pull off serious scenes just as well as he can do comedy.
Sandra Bernhard is superb as the freaky Masha.
Diahnne Abbott appears momentarily but does well.
Do watch "The King of Comedy". It is a scathing satire on the world of popular media and stardom. And watch it especially for an effervescent performance by Robert De Niro...no one else could've pulled this one off quite like he did!