Tag Archives: Robert De Niro

Jennifer on My Mind (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girlfriend becomes heroin addict.

While vacationing in Venice Marcus (Michael Brandon) meets up with Jennifer (Tippy Walker) a young free-spirit whose beauty and carefree ways immediately smitten him and the two begin a relationship, but Jennifer’s impulsive ways doesn’t allow it to last. He later learns that she’s a heroin addict and tries to help her overcome it, but to no avail. After she disappears for several months she then suddenly shows up at his doorstep wanting to rekindle old-times. At first he’s happy to see her, but then learns that her addiction has grown worse and after reluctantly giving her an injection that turns out to being fatal he then goes into a panic and tries to get rid of the dead body as he fears he’ll be implicated for her death otherwise.

After the success of Love Story screenwriter Erich Segal was a hot commodity and given free-reign to write any concoction he wanted and this script, which is based on the Robert L. Simon novel ‘Heir’ is the result.  The story though is poorly structured and seems to focus more on Marcus and his efforts to get rid of the body than on giving any meaningful insight to the drug addiction experience. There’s also severe shifts in tone where it’s dramatic one minute and then has weird dream-like humorous segues where Marcus sees visions of his dead grandfather (Lou Gilbert) who cracks corny jokes.

Director Noel Black, whose career looked bright after doing the critically acclaimed cult hit Pretty Poison, manages to infuse some nice on-location scenery, particularly that of Venice,  but technically botches many other moments. The worst comes when Jennifer tries to jump off the roof of her house, but she goes from being in her backyard to on the rooftop in a matter of seconds, which isn’t realistic. She then jumps off it even though it’s a 2-story building with another rooftop of a different section of the home beneath her, which is where she should’ve landed, but instead the film in a poorly edited bit that doesn’t even show the actual jump has her landing in a flower bed.

The Marcus character, who has inherited his grandfather’s fortune and therefore doesn’t have to work for a living, is too smug to be likable and most viewers will find his privileged situation off-putting. He also doesn’t seem, despite his insistence, to be all that ‘in-love’ with Jennifer especially with the callous ways he tries to get rid of her body and in one really creepy moment even professes to the corpse that he feels closer to her now than when she was alive. I also couldn’t understand why this non-descript guy would be constantly attracting the attention of violent bikers and hippies. One instance occurs when he is doing nothing more than standing at a pier of a lake and within seconds finds himself surrounded by three bikers who come out of nowhere and then later on as he’s driving down a busy highway some hippies decide to harass him at random but no one else.

Jennifer character is equally annoying as the viewer learns little about what makes her tick. Walker’s acting career ended after this film as she left Hollywood disillusioned with the business after having an affair with George Roy Hill when she was only 16 and he was 42 while filming The World of Henry Orient. Her life, like the character in the film, then  took a strong downward spiral as she opened up an art gallery in New Haven, Connecticut which eventually closed. In a 2015 interview published in the New Haven Register she was living in a cramped 1-bedroom apartment that was infested with cockroaches after having spent several years being homeless and surviving off of social security and what little monthly money her brother in Texas sent her.

The film’s  only saving grace are the performances of its supporting cast . I enjoyed Peter Bonerz as a psychiatrist who barrages into Marcus’ home and tries to give him an impromptu therapy session. Chuck McCann is amusing too as a motorist who tries to help Marcus change a flat, Barry Bostwick and Jeff Conaway enliven things as two antagonistic minstrels and Robert De Niro is great as a gypsy cab driver. Otherwise this thing is a complete mess that like a bad car accident is garish enough to keep you watching, but offers nothing in return.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Noel Black

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

The King of Comedy (1983)

king of comedy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Struggling comic craves fame.

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a lonely 34-year-old still living in the basement of his mother’s home while fantasizing about one day appearing on the top-rated Jerry Langford show as a stand-up comedian. When he tries to contact Langford (Jerry Lewis) he’s given the blow off, so he decides to plot an elaborate plan with an equally obsessed fan named Masha (Sandra Bernhard). Together they kidnap Jerry at gunpoint and take him back to her apartment where they tie him up with duct tape. They then call the show’s producers and demand that Rupert appear that night as a guest comedian on the show or Jerry’s life will be ended.

Paul D. Zimmerman’s script, which was originally written in the late ‘60s and intended as a vehicle for talk show host Dick Cavett, is nothing short of brilliant and the main reason for its success is that it takes an outrageous idea and adapts it to realities of modern day life while pinpointing with amazing clarity all the absurdities of today’s celebrity worship culture. The story is told by people who’ve worked in the entertainment business, which makes the viewer feel like they’ve experienced life from inside after watching it.

There are so many ingeniously funny moments that it is hard to pick only one in fact you have to watch the movie several times in order to appreciate all of its subtly and satirical nuances. I loved the scene where Rupert talks to cardboard cutouts of Liza Minnelli and Langford as he pretends to be on their show or when he imagines doing his routine in front of an audience while speaking to a blown-up picture of a crowd of people. The segment in which Rupert arrives at Langford’s home unannounced is equally good and was entirely ad-libbed by the cast. The scene involving Langford’s kidnapping and subsequent ‘ransom’ note, which he must read from cue cards is also hilarious and Rupert’s wedding that he imagines being done live on the Langford show is a terrific send-up of the real-life wedding between Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki that occurred on ‘The Tonight Show’ on December 17, 1969.

Director Scorsese does a masterful job of jumping from the real to surreal as well as allowing the viewer to get inside Rupert’s head and appreciating the warped logic that many obsessed fans like him have. I also enjoyed the inspired casting including having Scorsese’s own mother playing the voice of Rupert’s mom and De Niro’s real-life wife at the time playing Rupert’s would-be girlfriend. Frederick De Cordova who was the producer of ‘ The Tonight Show’ during its run with Johnny Carson essentially plays himself as Langford’s producer and even Scorsese can be spotted during a brief bit with actor Tony Randall.

Lewis is interesting in his first serious role and it’s fun seeing a picture of him when he was only 12-years-old. Comedian Sandra Bernhard is surprisingly good and I enjoyed the fact that even though her character was nutty she still came off as being quite sensible when compared to Pupkin. De Niro though steals it by making psychotic character seem strangely likable.

The few drawbacks include why at 34 would Rupert suddenly decided to break into the entertainment business and what was he doing before this. The Bernhard character also needed more of a backstory especially when we find that she’s living in a luxurious apartment and apparently loaded with money, which goes against the grain of most celebrity stalkers who are almost always on society’s fringe.

The humor may not resonate with everyone, but if one is a fan of dark comedy then it doesn’t get much darker than this. The twist ending, which blew me away when I first saw this years ago, now doesn’t seem quite as believable, but the rest of it is on-target in what is clearly a top comedy to of the ‘80s.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video