• The Jerk (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: December 18th, 2018.
    Director: Carl Reiner
    Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh, Jackie Mason, Dick O'Neill, Mabel King
    Year: 1979
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    The Jerk – Movie Review:

    “Good Lord - I've heard about this - cat juggling! Stop! Stop! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Good. Father, could there be a God that would let this happen?”

    When Carl Reiner’s film The Jerk begins, we meet Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) who, at first glance, appears to be a bum lying in a trash heap clutching a ratty old thermos. A short while later, Navin looks into the camera and explains that he’s not a bum, he’s a jerk. A jerk who was ‘born a poor black child’ which segues the flashbacks that make up the vast majority of the movie. We head to Mississippi where we learn that rhythmless Navin learned how he was adapted by the black family on his birthday, and how shortly after he decided to head out into the world and make it on his own, pledging to send some money back to the family when he can.

    “Lord loves a working man; don't trust whitey; see a doctor and get rid of it.”

    Eventually, after befriending a dog named Shithead, he manages to hitchhike to St. Louis and land a job at a gas station owned by Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) and avoids an assassination attempt by a gun toting lunatic (M. Emmet Walsh). When, by chance, he manages to fix the glasses of a customer named Stan Fox (Bill Macy), the businessman is impressed with the idea and tells him he’s going to make something of it and split it with him 50/50. Navin thinks nothing of it, eventually leaving the gas station to make it in the big time as a weight guesser at a travelling carnival. Here he gets into a relationship with a tough biker woman named Patty Bernstein (Caitlin Adams) and then eventually falls for a super cute gal named Marie Kimble Johnson (Bernadette Peters). They get serious but it gets called off before he can propose – her mother would never allow her to marry someone who wasn’t super successful. Imagine Navin’s luck then when he gets a check from Fox…and then another check from Fox. It seems his glasses invention, released as a product called the Opti-Grab, has been a hit and he’s now filth rich. Navin manages to woo Marie back and they buy a massive house and throw lavish parties, but of course, nothing lasts forever and we all know from the opening scene that Navin is destined to crash and burn.

    “He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans.”

    The Jerk holds up well in the modern day, particularly in its exploration of how very rich people can and often will do very stupid things with their money. Navin’s ludicrous spending once he hits it rich is really no different than, say, a real life asshole like Martin Shkreli (who famously dropped two million dollars on a Wu-Tang Clan album), he’s just more likeable when he does it because he’s not really smart enough to know better. That’s a big part of where the film’s charm comes from – Navin might not be very bright, but he’s not a mean person. He’s simply dim, really having no idea of how to properly look after himself once he leaves home, let alone once he finds fortune and fame. Martin, who is a genius when it comes to playing dimwitted characters, ensures that even as we laugh at Navin, we never dislike him. He grins his way through most of the movie quite amiably, so that when they money finally does get the better of him, well, even if we saw it coming we still can’t hate the guy.

    “First, I get my name in the phone book and now I'm on your ass. You know, I'll bet more people see that than the phone book.”

    As a showcase for Martin’s abilities as a comic, The Jerk is really strong. Right from the early parts of the film, where he dances like a complete fool with his family, he’s just funny to watch. As Navin sets out in the world, we see him match wits with a carload of gangsters, avoid an assassin’s bullet, enjoy his first lovemaking session (it’s here that he finds his ‘special purpose!’), chase a kid down on a small railroad – it’s all goofy, silly and often frequently very stupid stuff, and so too is it genuinely hilarious. He and Bernadette Peters have great chemistry in the film (he wrote the part with her in mind), their romance is just flat out cute without ever getting too sugary. Caitlin Adams steals a couple of scenes as the ‘genuinely dirty person’ and Jackie Mason, playing to type, is also very funny here.

    “I don't care about losing all the money. It's losing all the stuff.”

    The Jerk – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory’s AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer frames the film in its original 1.85.1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio and is taken from a new 2k scan, presented on a 50GB disc. The image is a bit soft in spots but this is probably due to how it was shot. Still, the good most certainly outweighs the bad here, the transfer is very solid. First and foremost, it looks like film – there’s no evidence at all of noise reduction or edge enhancement here, the film’s moderately grainy look has been left completely intact, as it should be. Detail can be very strong in some shots, less so in others but overall, things are fine in this department. There’s solid depth to the image and there are no problems with noticeable compression artifacts. Colors look quite good and black levels are fine. Skin tones seem natural enough – yeah, all in all, The Jerk looks really good here.

    English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 (Stereo, according to the packaging) with optional subtitles available in English only. The 5.1 mix is fine, there are no noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion to complain about. The 2.0 mix doesn’t appear to have any channel separation, at least none that this viewer could pick up on while watching it. Regardless, both tracks are balanced well and problem free.

    The best of the extras on the disc is a great twenty-seven-minute piece called, appropriately enough, A Conversation With Steve Martin And Carl Reiner. This is exactly what it sounds like – a conversation with the star and the director in which they stroll down memory lane and discuss the time that they spent making the movie together. There’s lots of talk here about what it was like on set and some of the people that they collaborated with on the project but they also talk about the picture’s success, what it did for their respective careers and how they feel about it a few decades later. Shout! Factory also includes a twenty-five-minute segment called A Conversation With Co-Writers Carl Gottlieb And Michael Elias that follows the same format. We hear from them about how they came to collaborate with one another on the project, what it was like working with Martin and Reiner, their thoughts on how the material they wrote was handled and quite a bit more. Both of these are very much worth checking out if you’re at all a fan of the film and want to know more about it.

    Carried over from the old Universal Blu-ray release is a seven-minute instructional video that will teach you how to play "You Belong to Me" on the ukulele if you’re interested in doing that, as well as the four-minute The Lost Film Strips Of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova piece that, if you haven’t seen it, is rather amusing.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is an original theatrical trailer, a teaser trailer, an exhibitor’s trailer, three minutes of radio spots, menus and chapter selection.

    The Jerk – The Final Word:

    The Jerk remains one of the funniest things that Steve Martin has ever done, a high point in seventies comedy and just an all-around funny movie. It’s aged well, its themes maybe even more relevant now in this day and age, and Martin’s performance remains impressive. The Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory is a good one, porting the extras from the past edition over and including two enjoyable new interviews as well as presenting the film in very nice shape. I love this movie way too much - highly recommended!

    “P.S. is grandma still farting?”

    Click on the images below for full sized The Jerk Blu-ray screen caps!