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The Jerk (1979)

Movies often resonate with the individual based on the titles we see in our youth. They remain with us and give us no end of enjoyment after repeated viewings. For me The Jerk is just such a film. Every couple of years I put it into the dvd player and get a few good belly laughs leading to tears all over again.

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Steve Martin stars here as Navin R. Johnson. Born to a poor family of black sharecroppers, “You mean I’m gonna stay this color?” he sets out to make a life for himself. Among the warnings he receives from the family before leaving are “Don’t trust whitey.” “See a doctor and get rid of it” and “The Lord loves a working man.” With these lessons in life and his Father’s Zippo he heads to St. Louis to make his fortune and find fame.

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With a little perseverance and trying to stay ahead of a crazed sniper played by M. Emmet Walsh he may find it. With his loyal dog Shithead he not only falls into riches untold with the creation of the optigrab for folks wearing eyeglasses but he captures the heart of Bernadette Peters when he introduces her to his special purpose in life. It’s a talent that a rowdy biker played by Catlin Adams helps him to unleash or should I say “unzip?”

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Not everything is going to be all wine and roses for the young couple living the high life of sophistication. Director Carl Reiner is about to make a funny cameo in the film as he launches a class action lawsuit against Martin’s invention that just might bring him to his knees. Reiner not only directed the film but called on his son Rob to make a quick cameo as well.

This is one of those comedies that keeps tossing the gags at the screen in the hopes that some if not most will strike the funny bone. For me it’s a mission accomplished. After watching it again I was pleasantly surprised to notice the lack of “toilet humor” that so many of these whacky comedies now throw at us today.

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Much like comedies  The Naked Gun and It’s a Mad World this film has lines that I never stop using in everyday life when the moment calls for it. “That’s all I need” is a good one. I instinctively launch into reliving the scene “And I need this, and that’s all I need” and so on. Even my father loves to blurt out “We’ve got a voucher” in reference to Mrs. Noosebaum’s credit card thief. Or how about humming “I’m picking out a thermos for you,”

Joining in the fun aside from the beautiful Bernadette we have Maurice Adams, Jackie Mason as Mr. Hartounian who puts his sex life into Martin’s hands. William Schallert and Bill Macy. It’s all played for fun and Martin received a screenplay and story credit as well.

One look at this film and you’ll come to realize why I can never contain my excitement every year when the new phone book arrives

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or why if you ever find yourself as a weight guesser in a carnival side show you’ll need to relax and realize “it’s a profit deal!”

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