Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The King of Comedy, White Heat, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, & The Bellboy

Despite the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I’ve managed to watch four movies that weren’t particularly Jewish.

A The King of Comedy (1982) Netflix DVD

Martin Scorscee’s meditation on celebrity and fandom (written by Paul D. Zimmerman) feels in a strange way like a much less violent Taxi Driver. Like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is clearly out of his mind. But instead of raining horrible death on the scum of New York, he just wants to make people laugh. The problem is that he thinks he’s a brilliant comedian, but he won’t work his way up in the clubs. Instead, he stalks a famous TV comedian (Jerry Lewis in a fine, serious performance). Sandra Bernhard steals every scene she’s in as another crazy fan. Although basically a serious film, it’s often quite funny.

A- White Heat (1949) Criterion Channel

James Cagney played a lot of crooks in his career, but he never played one as tough, mean, and out of control as this guy. Murder means nothing to him. You don’t want to get on his bad side, and you probably will. On the other hand, he truly loves his mother (Margaret Wycherly in a tough-as-nails performance). Virginia Mayo plays his philandering wife, and Edmond O’Brien as the undercover cop who befriends him to take him down. But this is clearly Cagney’s movie, and he gives one of his best performances. Directed by Raoul Walsh. “Top of the world, Ma!”

B+ Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) California (Berkeley)

Anyone with a wicked sense of humor will enjoy this essentially silly romp, heading towards the horror of the Tate murders. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make a fine pair as a has-been TV western star and his combination stuntman, chauffeur, and best friend. I turned 15 in the summer of 1969…in Hollywood, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie wasn’t the nostalgic wallow I expected. I know enough about the time and place to see when Tarantino makes a mistake, or when he changes history intentionally. The 35mm print looked glorious, but will probably be scratched after a week or two.

D- The Bellboy (1960) Netflix DVD

When I was six, I loved this Jerry Lewis comedy – his first as a writer, producer, and director. Watching it again at the age of 65, I didn’t laugh once. I think one gag gained a mild smile. Lewis plays an inept, non-talking bellboy at the swanky Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. That’s the whole story; he just keeps messing things up. Chaplin, Arbuckle, Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy made similar movies, but none of theirs lasted more than 30 minutes and they were much more talented than the overacting Lewis. The Bellboy’s 72 minutes feels like an eternity. You might want to read my article on Jerry Lewis and Me.