Steve Martin (Steve Martin: The Television Stuff) made his major feature film debut in The Jerk as Navin R. Johnson, a role he was born to play. A co-writer of the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, the idea for the movie came from a line in one of Martin’s popular standup routines “I was born a poor black child” and grew from there. With comic legend Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) in the director’s chair, the result was a box-office hit and widely considered one of the best comedies of all-time.
Raised by Mississippi sharecroppers, Navin R. Johnson is naïve, but optimistic. After learning he was adopted, Navin hits the road, determined to seek out his “special purpose.” Navin has a series of adventures along the way: he takes a job at a gas station, and somehow managed to get shot by a raving madman. Then he lands a job with a traveling carnival where he learns what his “special purpose” (his mother’s euphemism for his penis) is for. The Jerk isn’t high art, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a showcase for Martin’s physical comedy skills reminiscent of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd. The only goal is to make the audience laugh.
Navin meets the sweet, naïve Marie (Bernadette Peters, The Carol Burnett Show 50th Anniversary Special), the woman who will become his wife. Navin unexpectedly strikes it rich as the inventor of a fad gadget called the “Opti-Grab.” He soon learns that fame and wealth can be short-lived. For all its ridiculousness and politically incorrect humor, The Jerk has a lot of heart. The relationship between Navin and his family is played for laughs, but there’s obviously a lot of love. The romance between Navin and Marie is sweet and sincere. These characters are impossible to root against.
Carl Reiner allows Martin to be a mix of jerk and romantic to great effect. The plot is flimsy, really just a series of events to move from joke to joke, but it works wonderfully. Checking in at barely 90 minutes, The Jerk doesn’t over stay it’s welcome. The Jerk was the first of four movies Steve Martin would star in for director Carl Reiner. It was followed by Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983) and All of Me (1984). As good as those other films are, for me, The Jerk stands alone as an undisputed classic. As funny today, as it was when it was released forty years ago.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and remastered from a new 2K transfer of the film, this is a noted improvement over the previous Blu-ray release. Detail is improved, and grain appears more organic than before. The image looks the best it ever has, though there’s room for improvement, should a 4K release ever materialize. Sharpness has improved, though a few. specks are in evidence. Movements are noticeably more fluid, and distortion isn’t an issue. Black levels are strong, if not exactly inky. Colors have a 1970’s flare and flesh tones look natural.
This appears to be the same 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix provided on the previous Blu-ray release. It’s a solid experience, though nothing spectacular. Compared to the included 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA mix, it offers a few more subtle effects. The mix is well balanced, never allowing the score or effects to overwhelm the vocals. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- A Conversation with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner (HD, 26:45) It’s neat to see these two comedy legends in conversation. With obvious admiration, the two discuss the film and how it fits in the context of both of their careers.
- A Conversation with Co-Writers Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias (HD, 21:40) Similar to the previous piece, the two men discuss the film and it’s impact on their careers.
- Learn to Play “You Belong to Me” (SD, 7:04) The same step-by-step ukele lesson offered on the old Universal disc.
- The Lost Film Stripes of Father Las Vegas de Cordova (SD, 4:20) From the old Universal disc.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:30)
- Teaser Trailer (HD, 0:33)
- Exhibitor’s Trailer (2:29)
- Radio Spots (3:03)
Movie title: The Jerk (1979)
Director(s): Carl Reiner
Actor(s): Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters , Catlin Adams , Mabel King , Richard Ward , Dick Anthony Williams
Genre: Comedy, Coming of Age