Skip to content

Blu-ray Review: The Jerk: 40th Anniversary Edition

January 9, 2019

By John Corrado

Carl Reiner’s classic 1979 comedy The Jerk is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, an occasion that was marked by this new Blu-ray edition that was put out by Shout Select last month.

The film stars Steve Martin in his breakout movie role as Navin R. Johnson, a charming simpleton who was raised as a “poor black child” by his adoptive family of African-American sharecroppers in Mississippi. When he finds out that he’s not their “natural born child”, much to his shock, Navin decides to venture out into the world on his own for the first time.

Navin goes to work at a gas station under the guidance of his boss Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason), gets chased by a murderous madman (M. Emmet Walsh) who happens to find his name in the phone book, takes a job at the carnival where a female biker (Catlin Adams) helps him discover his “special purpose”, and falls in love with the girl of his dreams, Marie (Bernadette Peters), while striking it rich entirely by accident.

This is the sort of film that would never get made now for obvious reasons, at a time when comedy is increasingly under attack by the more politically correct factions of our society, and it’s easy to imagine some modern audiences who choose not to view things through the time and place of when they were released taking issue with the film and writing it off as being “outdated” and “offensive.” But The Jerk really doesn’t have a mean bone in its body, and there is a certain level of innocence to the film that allows it to get away with a lot.

Watching The Jerk now, it’s striking how enjoyable the film still manages to be. With a screenplay by Martin and screenwriters Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias that was written with the goal of having a joke on every page, the film often has an off the wall feel to it, unfolding through a series of over the top and sometimes absurd comic scenarios. But it’s also oddly kind of sweet, and Navin Johnson remains one of Martin’s most iconic and fully realized characters, as the comic drew upon his wildly popular standup act to successfully make the transition into being a movie star.

Reiner, who would team up with Martin for three more movies, keeps the film moving at a good pace, telling a complete story but also never staying in any one place for too long so as not to overstay its welcome. The film unfolds over about an hour and a half, and there is enjoyment to be found in almost every moment, no matter how ridiculous. Finally, The Jerk is also partially responsible for helping usher in a type of screen comedy that’s so dumb it’s actually smart, inspiring countless others and making it a classic for a reason.

The Blu-ray offers a restored version of the film remastered from a 2K transfer, and the disc features a pair of new sitdown conversations with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner and co-writers Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, which are both very enjoyable to watch. The archival bonus features Learn How to Play “Tonight You Belong to Me” and The Lost Film Strips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova, as well as a selection of old trailers and radio spots, are also included.

The Jerk: 40th Anniversary Edition is a Shout! Factory release. It’s 94 minutes and rated R.

Street Date: December 18th, 2018

2 Comments leave one →
  1. matt permalink
    March 14, 2019 2:15 pm

    sooo… it doesn’t contain the “alternate” shots for the television versions?


    • March 15, 2019 12:40 pm

      No, this disc includes the version that has previously been released on DVD and Blu-ray, which I presume is the original theatrical version? I actually wasn’t aware that there was an alternate TV version until reading your comment, so thanks for bringing this to my attention!

      I did some research and found the scenes from the television version on YouTube, including the “spinner” scene which is not in this version, and anyone who’s interested can check them out here.

      I do think these should have been included on the disc as deleted scenes. There’s a more detailed rundown of the alternate versions on IMDb here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: