In a feature here on “Random thoughts of 210Darryl” started last Wednesday I’m going to talk about my favorite movies in a few different genres. Making these lists took more work that I thought they would because limiting it to five in each category took some doing. I figured 10 was too many, so down to five I cut my lists. We’re starting with my top five favorite comedy movies and counting up toward #1. At number five was Young Frankenstein, and this week at #4 we have Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
I think one of the reasons I love this movie so much is it was my father’s favorite movie. The Jerk is really just Steve Martin’s early comedy act fleshed out into a movie, with added comedic scenes written by Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias to create some continuity. It’s said they wanted to make sure there was one laugh per script page, and they succeeded. It’s not any sort of intellectual comedy, it’s just flat out funny stuff full of one liners and sets ups that can be seen coming from a mile away but it’s hard not to laugh at them.
I still chuckle when I recall the scene of Martin jumping around exclaiming “The new phone book is here!” and when the sniper is trying to kill him Martin shouting “he hates the cans!”. The bit at the end where he grabs everything in sight as he’s leaving his house is great, and for many years my brother and I will randomly say to each other “all I need is this thermos” and make references to “Iron Balls McGinty”. The escargot scene with Bernadette Peters is classic Martin comedy. Roger Ebert said The Jerk is “all gags and very little comedy”. I disagree. It’s all gags and incredibly funny comedy.
One has to wonder if parts of this movie could ever be made today. The line “I was born a poor black child” spoken by Martin in the opening scene would no doubt raise the ire of some folks despite it being one of the funnier parts of the story and not really doing anything but poking fun at this white guy for not realizing he was adopted by a black family. Political correctness run amok, I’d say. It’s funny because the joke is, as are most in the film, on Steve Martin.*
Directed by Carl Reiner
Produced by David V. Picker & William E. McEuen
Written by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, & Michael Elias
Starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh, Jackie Mason, Dick O’Neill, and Mabel King
Music by Jack Elliott
Cinematography by Victor J. Kemper
Edited by Bud Molin & Ron Spang
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date December 14, 1979
Running time 94 minutes
Budget $4 million
Box office $73,691,419
*We’ll also see if the joke is on anyone else. The first person to make a reply here or on social media that says “Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you” or the like has to make a $20 donation to a local food bank.