Thursday, March 13, 2008

DON"T TOSS YOUR VCR YET- King Of The Gypsies

(Continually we will spotlight films that are only available on VHS and of course are available at Rocket Video)

King of the Gypsies (1978)

Here’s my pitch to high-end DVD distributor The Criterion Company

Gang, I gots me an idea.

Let’s get the rights to the 1978 flick, King Of the Gypsies. After we fix the picture and sound and all that, we can easily fill a second disc with interviews and mini-docs about the colorful cast and crew. It was directed by the acclaimed screenwriter Frank Pierson (who wrote among others scripts, Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luke), based on a book by Peter Maas (Serpico). It was beautifully shot by Ingmar Bergman’s cameraman, Sven Nykvist, only his second American flick (after 1978’s Pretty Baby). And it had a wild n' crazy all-star cast, of method acting hams. 

Since it’s never been on DVD and the video went out of print a long time ago, about the only place anyone was gonna find it, was Rocket Video.

The story, which on paper may have looked epic, is a bit hokey. Three generations of Gypsies in modern (1970s) New York city. Charismatic aging patriarch (Sterling Hayden) and his obese wife (Shelly Winters), his son the abusive drunken gambler (Judd Hirsch) and his brilliant con woman wife (Susan Sarandon) try to keep the tribe afloat. The King wants to skip his son and pass the throne of power to his grandson, who’s played as a boy by Matthew Laborteaux (Albert on TV’s Little House On The Prairie and later Whiz Kids) and Eric Roberts, in his first film plays the grown version.  

Let the Scenery Chew-Off commence!

Winters is close to being my fav-actress ever, but she doesn’t have much to do here except look exhausted. 

After kissing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee Hayden ended up have a spotty but interesting career. Two of his best flicks were with Kubrick (The Killing and Dr Strangelove). Otherwise he mostly did B-movies, aside from a couple of films with legendary directors (Johnny Guitar, The Asphalt Jungle, The Godfather, 1900). As The King though, oh boy, he really lets loose with his deep craggy voice and the face expressions and gestures, he aim for the bleachers 

{check out Hayden's final flick before his death, a sterling little kidnapping/heist/killer-snake thriller from 1981 called Venom, which costars...get this cast- Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson and Sarah Miles. How bazaar do you suppose life was on that set?

Judd Hirsch tries to match Hayden chew-for-chew, but he comes off as just overacting with no style. Miles below his great performance in Ordinary People (1980). 

As  Hirsch's daughter, little cutie Brook Shields even takes a bite out the scenery with her NY accent. Repeating the mother/daughter combo of Pretty Baby with her, Sarandon carries much of the film, though her accent, sometimes iffy and she seems a bit young for the role. She does exude strength and charm and especially sexiness. Of course a few years later she would make her masterpiece, Louie Malle’s Atlantic City, her and her costar Burt Lancaster would get dicked over and lose Oscars to the On Golden Pond stars. I might call her, though no where in her league, an American Helen Mirren,  but they both have done their share of cult films and have both had their highly erotic on screen moments. 

Speaking of strange careers.... Eric Roberts is awesome in this. Another reminder of what a wasted potential that guy had. He is very cool looking and so intense and brooding.  All that methody over-emoting would be put to full use a few years later with the apex of his career his BRILLIANT creepy, scary, funny performance as Paul Snider in Star 80 (1983). And then the next year he’d get his only Oscar nomination (along with costar Jon Voight) for the crazy existential action flick Runaway Train. And the same year his over the top acting in The Pope Of Greenich Village would pretty much send him into twenty years of (and about 100 films) straight to cable/ straight to video crap. I recently caught on the Channel 7 Sunday late night movie something called Trip Fall (2000) with Roberts, his hair very blow dried, doing some kind of New Orleans accent as a creep who is blackmailing family man John Ritter. I assumed it was a TV movie, but I looked it up and saw it wasn’t instead I guess it was made as a theatrical flick and went... straight to the Channel 7 Sunday late night movie!

Rounding out the acta-riffic cast is surprisingly sexy Annie Potts, the strikingly Anglo-beautiful Annette O'Toole and finally apprently Eli Wallach wasn't available so instead they landed another method-acting super-ham Michael V. Gazzo who of course, besides getting an Oscar nomination for The Godfather Part Two, he wrote the 1950’s Actors Studio theatrical play Hateful Of Rain...which starred a much younger Shelly Winters and now we have gone full circle. 

And I’ve barely mentioned how much I enjoyed this flick. 

Until my friends at Criterion or someone puts this out on DVD, if you have a VCR and wanna see some actors at different places in their career in a slickly made potboiler this is the movie.

NOTE: I site Oscar Nominations sometimes, not because the Oscars are some kind of bench mark of quality. Often on the contrary. But they are a bench mark, for say an actor like Eric Roberts of when he was most acknowledged by the industry. 

Interesting, actors that followed Roberts career highs and then flame outs like Mickey Rourke and Gary Oldman never were oscar nominated (though Oldman has been doing the Harry Potter flicks and both he and Roberts are in the new Dark Knight flick).

ANOTHER NOTE: Speaking of Gypsies, the documentary The Piper Of Hutzovina about Gypsy wanna-be musician Gogol Bordello is coming out on DVd next month, it follows him as he tours Eastern Europe seeking out that crazy Gypsy sound.

And when is the Robert Duvall directed, labor-of-love, the little Gypsy docu-drama gem Angelo My Love (1983) gonna hit DVD?



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