Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1974. Marvin Worth Productions. Screenplay by Julian Barry, based on his play. Cinematography by Bruce Surtees. Produced by Marvin Worth. Music by Ralph Burns. Production Design by Joel Schiller. Costume Design by Albert Wolsky. Film Editing by Alan Heim. Academy Awards 1974. Cannes Film Festival 1975. Golden Globe Awards 1974.
Bob Fosse’s third film and first non-musical is a fascinating, unflinching look at the life and career of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Dustin Hoffman is effective in the lead, a foul-mouthed orator whose frank discussions of social issues, peppered with colourful four-letter words, gets him in constant trouble with the law. Bruce broke down barriers for future generations and redefined stand-up comedy as we know it, which is given ample tribute in the film, though there was also a gritty, reckless quality to the comedian that Hoffman can’t nail (he has his shit together in a way that Bruce didn’t, and which he used as part of his appeal). Valerie Perrine is even more compelling as Bruce’s wife, a former stripper whose relationship with him forms the film’s emotional content. Filmed with documentary-like precision in black-and-white, the film is startling for how impressively entertaining it is and for how real it all feels.