King of the Gypsies (1978)

king of the gypsies

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daddy is a psycho

Dave (Eric Roberts) is the rebellious son of Groffo (Jud Hirsch) who no longer wants to be a part of the gypsy clan that he was raised in and instead a part of the American dream. However, when Dave’s grandfather Zharko (Sterling Hayden) lies dying in his hospital bed he gives the coveted medallion to Dave making him the new king of the gypsies. This sends Groffo into a jealous rage and orders two men to go out and kill Dave who now must elude them while trying to get his life together and help get his younger sister Tita (Brooke Shields) out of the clan as well.

Although far from being a complete success the film does manage to have a few unique and even memorable moments. The best is when a young Dave is used as a decoy in an attempt to rob a jewelry store. His mother Rose (Susan Sarandon) pretends to be a customer looking over some diamonds. When Dave creates a ruckus she tries to calm him down by having him drink a glass of water while also having him swallow a diamond that she has discreetly lifted from the display table. They are then able to walk out of the store when the merchants are unable to prove that they stole it only to have Rose later retrieve the jewel when Dave poops it out. Having Groffo put a 10-year-old Dave behind a wheel of a car and drive it down a busy Brooklyn Street is about as nerve-wracking as any car chase I’ve seen. The scene where Groffo tries to physically force Dave to have sex with his own mother is also incredibly startling.

However, despite these few interesting moments the film overall never really gels. The first half showing how the gypsy people live seems a bit clichéd and the way they openly cheat other people in order to make a living makes them unlikable and uninteresting. The only time it ever gets half way compelling is when it shows Dave struggling to survive on the mean streets of New York after he runs away from his psychotic father. Unfortunately this gets ruined when it constantly brings his family and past coming back to haunt him. The cat and mouse game that he plays with his father is not original and Hirsch makes for a very boring villain. He is unable to convey a menacing quality and thus there is never any real tension. The violin soundtrack compliments the gypsy tradition, but eventually becomes annoying.

Roberts is solid in his film debut. His voice-over narration coupled with his raw delivery is effective. Had the film focused solely on him and left out the silly gypsy sub-plot it would have worked much better.

Sarandon gives it some energy and she has the most effective accent. Shields is pretty much wasted and appears in only a handful of scenes. The biggest irony here is that the two played a mother and daughter before in Pretty Baby, which came out just 7 months before this one.

Hayden really seems to be having fun as the bombastic self-proclaimed King Gypsy. Watching him feud at the beginning with Michael V. Gazzo who plays the head of another gypsy clan is somewhat diverting. It is also interesting to see Shelly Winters in a part that has less than three speaking lines. This woman never seemed to ever want to shut up both on-screen and in interviews, so seeing her in a part that allows for so little dialogue is quite a novelty, but she still succeeds with it particularly in the part where she grieves over her dead family members.

It is fun to see a young Danielle Brisebois as well as Matthew Labyoreaux who later went on to play Albert in ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Annie Potts is good in a brief part and Patti LuPone makes her film debut in an uncredited bit.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Pierson

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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