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The Jerk – 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Next year will mark the 40th Anniversary of the Steve Martin/Carl Reiner comedy, The Jerk. 1979 was a launchpad year for Martin as a leading man in this film, but he also partook in The Muppet Movie and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as well. Not only has The Jerk been Martin’s cinematic starting point, but its also come to be one of his most beloved works. A sort of cult-like item now with the passage of time, it was a massive hit back upon release featuring great reviews and making close to 3/4 of a $100 million dollars. For a comedy in 1979, that’s pretty huge. Shout! Factory seems the perfect company to celebrate the film with a new Blu-ray, having previously released all of his television specials, with this brand new edition coming December 18th. Pre-order yourself a copy of this classic using the Amazon link below.

Film 

Navin (Steve Martin) believes he was born a poor black child in Mississippi. He is, however, actually white. Upon figuring this out, he heads north to St. Louis to find himself. After landing a job at a gas station, Navin is excited to discover his name printed in the new phone book. This ratification of his existence leads him from one misadventure to another — as he invents gadgets, dodges bullets, joins the carnival and seeks love in the arms of beautiful Marie (Bernadette Peters).

Often tried, but rarely repeated, Steve Martin’s leading debut was a killer comedy with almost a joke a minute running through its swift 90 minute window into the life of one Navin Johnson. Martin and director Carl Reiner put together a film that showcased a lot of Martin’s talent and wove in bits from his stand up routine to form a narrative on an idiot that finds massive success only to hit rock bottom once again. Its film that his laugh out loud funny, insanely quotable, has smart humor and ultimately can charm your socks off. I’m sure there are some that probably don’t enjoy the film, and that’s your right, as comedy is plenty subjective. But for myself and a legion of others, this is one of the best there ever has been.

There has been some issue with Navin’s origins in the film, growing up a “poor black child” deemed offensive. If you are offended, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, but I couldn’t help but watch it this time around with that in mind and I thought it was handled quite well and in good taste. Martin’s Navin is a complete buffoon while the other members of the family are all competent, talented, caring and very loving to him and one another. And a moment that possibly could’ve have been handled horribly is handled very well actually and keeps the narrative fine today in that when he finds out he’s white, he’s quite upset by the fact. He continues through the film identifying with his upbringing in complete ignorance as well. Yes, there’s use of the “N-word”, but if we are going to be honest to his character and how he is (And he’s an idiot, let’s not forget), it fits. Plus, if anything, this movie shines light on white privilege and such opportunities afforded to Navin that are willing to be handed out to a complete moron.  I didn’t see it in the offensive light, but something that surprisingly holds sturdy. If you see it differently, I’m not going to argue, but help me out, I’d appreciate that.

Steve Martin is tremendous here, going all in on this moron, but it works and somehow the guy still feels human. When he receives the phone book and the excitement that he’s somebody, you laugh but also can’t help but feel a little warm for the guy. Also, delivering all time moments of song and improv that’ll go down forever. One of my favorite moments in a comedy happens when he’s speaking to Bernadette Peters in her sleep. The speech is a full quadrant bit of cinema where its impressive, smart, funny and sweet all at the same time. That’s how much of The Jerk operates. And there are so many jokes and touches, it can be a lot to take in on a first viewing. Many comedies try to be a patchwork of jokes and have one per scene, per shot and its a recipe for utter failure. The Jerk is that one that actual succeeds in doing so. The majority are hilarious and never tire or get old as you chuckle through the film.

Martin is not alone in making the film work. There are many supporting players along the way that amplify the film or work because of their contrast to Steve Martin. We need to go back in history and do a reappraisal of the many women and men who have been the love interest or straight man to an outrageous comedian’s lead performance and appreciate that its not easy to do what they do and show restraint, staying true to character and not easily giving in to the silliness. These humorous people do not work if not for these people giving them genuine reactions or grounding reality for them to play in. Bernadette Peters is terrific here, and impressive in an understated way. And she’s quite the goofball herself, though that’s nowhere near the extremes Martin goes. Granted they were dating at the time, but they make for a great couple in the film.

I’ve been loving The Jerk for as long as I can remember. Its a screwy comedy, both really smart and really dumb. That’s the nature of the beast. Steve Martin gives a tour de force debut performance in a leading role, hitting into a space some rarely can get to and succeed. I would hope this one works for audiences old and new, but if not, that’s perfectly fine, there are many classic and modern comedies out there to cherish as I do this one.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Jerk comes remastered from a brand new 2K transfer of the film. That’s all the info I have. They haven’t provided the source of it. Rest assured, while not perfect, it is a nice jump and improvement over the previous release of the film. Details are solid for the most part and the film feels a little more multidimensional than the previous image. It features a solid retention of the grain that only feels an issue in the opening credits of the film. This is a rather nice image and the best its look, though there is plenty of room to improve it, should a 4K Ultra-HD release ever be an option in the future.

Depth:  There’s a lot of improvement here with this new transfer. Characters feel like they have a little more room to breath and movements feel more fluid and confident. No real distortion issues come with rapid motions either.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep and not really an issue over all. They can make things more grainy, like at the start of the film or inside Navin’s childhood home. No crushing issues witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid here, but this has that sorta 70s flare where things are as poppy. The disco scene lights up as good as it can and some fashion choices do stand out. Greens, like the lawn and trees (And facial goop) can look strong in it.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and keep consistent for the duration of the film. Facial features and textures are apparent in close ups. Medium shots can tend to look a little smoother or not as detailed at many times, though are more than passable.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: I’m pretty sure this is the same 5.1 mix provided on the previous release. Its a solid experience, though nothing that’ll set your room on fire. What sets it apart from the 2.0 track is it feels like it has a little more nuance and attention to detail when it comes to the foley effect work in the mix. Its also well balanced between the score, effects and vocals.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Nothing too deep here to give a good bounce on the subwoofer, but it gives a nice compliment to the proceedings from time to time.

Surround Sound Presentation: This mostly is a front heavy experience, though the rear speakers perk up with something from time to time. Motion is pretty accurate.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and plenty audible at all times in the mix.

Extras 

The Jerk – 40th Anniversary Edition comes with a reversible cover featuring the original theatrical poster art.

A Conversation With Steve Martin and Carl Reiner (HD, 26:35) – The director and star sit down for a wonderful conversation with the most respect and praise for one another as they tell the story of how The Jerk came to be and what touches that Reiner added to the film to make it the classic it is today.

A Conversation With Co-writers Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias (HD, 24:40) – As is with the previous featurette, the two sit for a conversation with one another as opposed to just an interview and their chemistry and complimentary nature of one another works as they tell the story of The Jerk from their angle.

Learn To Play “Tonight You Belong To Me” (SD, 7:04) – Actually a step by step, patient teaching of playing the song in the film on a ukulele.

The Lost Film Strips of Father Carols Las Vegas De Cordova (SD, 4:20) – The full video of the cat juggling sequence in the film.

Theatrical Trailers (SD, 2:30) 

Teaser Trailer (HD, :33)

Exhibitor’s Trailer (HD, 2:29) – A funny bit where Steve Martin tries to convince theater owners to book showings of The Jerk.

Radio Spots (HD, 3:03)

Summary 

The Jerk has been with me for a long time, and I continue to adore it and laugh aplenty every time. Its a film I quote quite often, as much of it is just my normal speak now. Shout! Factory has given it a wonderful 40th Anniversary Edition with the bonus features its provided. The presentation of the film is the best its ever looked, but admittedly there is room for continued improvement, should the 4K UHD format give it the opportunity. This is easily an upgrade and the best version of The Jerk on home video we’ve ever had.

Disclaimer: The images used in this review are not from the Shout! Factory release of The Jerk – 40th Anniversary Edition. At this time, Shout! Factory has not provided screen captures for press use. In addition, my laptop recently died and I had to replace it quickly and most cost-effectively. Because of this and it being the holiday season, I currently do not have a Blu-ray drive to use for screen capturing on my reviews. My previous laptop had the drive built in, this one does not. I’m not going to post cell phone pictures of my television for my reviews. Once images are either provided or I am able to capture myself again, they will be replaced. If this bothers you to some extreme form of keyboard fury, and because I’m not made of money, you are more than welcome to send me a new portable USB Blu-ray drive or donate money to the quest for me to have a new one. You can contact me, brandon@whysoblu.com and we can work something out if this factor is deeply troubling to you. As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued reading and ridiculing. 

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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