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Peter Maas's book is a non-fiction look at the Gypsy culture,
particularly how it has translated into 20th century America. This
movie is mostly fiction, although it draws on some of the material in
It's basically a family drama, with a rebellious youth (Eric Roberts) squaring off against his abusive father (Judd Hirsch). I'm not sure if a case can be made for Eric Roberts as a terrific actor, but he doesn't embarrass himself here, and the rest of the cast, Hirsch, Shelley Winters, Susan Sarandon, and Sterling Hayden, is superb. A fascinating look at a culture that may be dissolving into modern life, and a well-paced and acted film that is consistently entertaining.
There's a special treat for jazz fans, as violin giant Stephane Grappelli appears in the movie, along with mandolin player David Grisman, performing a medley composed by Grisman and performed with Grappelli on a live album that has always been one of my favorites. This is the only footage I've seen of Grappelli performing, and while it's limited to a few shots, it's still worth the price of admission.
A DVD release has finally been announced for June 3, 2008.
I first saw this film at a theatre in 1978 and have only seen it on television once. I can't remember what attracted me to seeing it, but it was a surprisingly good movie. Eric Roberts showed the industry that he can act and be very convincing. The central actors must have studied gypsy life because they pulled it off very well. The film is mostly about the tension of the next successor to the throne (Judd Hirsch) and his son (Eric Roberts) whom the present King (Sterling Hayden) favors as his actual successor. Hirsch plays a cold, scheming character who finally does one of the most despicable acts a person can do, and shows no remorse for it. This, in turn, sparks retaliation from his son. If I ever find it on DVD, it will become part of my collection. I give this film an 8 out of 10.
***SPOILERS*** 22 year old Eric Roberts tears up the screen in his film
debut a Dave the heir apparent to take over his dying grandpa's King
Zhavico Stepanowicz's, Sterling Hyden, title as the "King of the
Gypsies". This doesn't go too well with Dave's dad Groffo, Judd Hirsh,
who's gambling wife beating and all around incompetence as a Gypsie
chieftain had him get disqualified, by his dad King Zhavico, for that
long sought and coveted honor.
As for Dave he had since became disillusioned with his nomadic Gypsie life-style in him having an all-American girlfriend the milky white and strawberry blond Sharon, Annette O'Toole, as well as getting a job, against his family's advice, as a singing waiter at the famed Moma Leone's Restaurant in New York City. Dave now plans to go to California together with Sharon and start up his singing career by becoming, as a guest in a series of local and network armature night TV shows, the next American Idol. That's just how confident Dave is in his amazing, that had Sharon fall in love with him, crooning & singing abilities.
It's when Dave tries to save his 12 year-old sister Tita, Brooks Shields, form her being forced to marry this overstuffed an corn chip munching couch potato who's parents she was sold, by her dad Groffo, to be marry to that he took things into his own hands. Tita is deeply in loved with the cute and lovable Eli Marks, who from the sound of his name isn't a Gypsie, and is determined to marry him even if it ends up having her estranged from her family and people the Gypsies.
With King Zhavko handing over the leadership to Dave over his dad Groffo the battle-line was drawn for he epic and final conflict for Gypsie supremacy in all of New York Sate and parts Eastern Pennsylvania: The area that King Zhavko reigns over. All that's left for the fighting to begin is for the ailing King Zhavko to breath his last breath which, as he's lying in his hospital bed on life support, will come at any moment! Powerful and electrifying performance by Eric Roberts as Dave Stepanowicz lifts the movie "King of the Gypies" up to Academy Award levels. Even though newcomer Roberts has to compete with seasoned stage and movie veteran and Academy Award quality actors and actress like the aforementioned Sterling Hyden and Judd Hirsh. Roberts also more then hold his own against such top-flight actresses like Shelly winters, as Queen Racael his grandma, and Susan Sarandon, as Dave's mother Rose, as well as young 12 year-old sensation child model Brook Shields who plays his tragic and love sick-for non Gyspie Eli Marks-sister Tita.
***SPOILERS***Explosive final with Dave having it out with his vindictive dad Groffo, whom he replaced as the "King of the Gypsies", at the exclusive Gypise social club in midtown Manhattan. In the end Dave finally realizes that he can't escape his fate, in him being the "King of the Gypsies", he then reluctantly follow in his grandfathers footsteps knowing full well that that's the only life he was born into and will remain, like his Grandpa Zhavko, until his dying day.
This movie was panned by critics, but it seems to have gained cult
status among those who like 70s films.
I liked it simply for its fascinating subject--Gypsies in modern day urban America.
This is certainly not a definitive study of the culture, but it is exciting and most of the acting is solid. Roberts and Shields are incredibly beautiful, and the cinematography has that ripe, but overcast look you see in so many films released during the era. Stephane Grapelli's violin in the background adds weight to the glorious score.
The biggest downside is Sterling Hayden's performance. His voice tends to rupture and bark in its heaviness; it lacks nuance. Also, I sometimes felt embarrassed for Sarandon. Though she was perfectly cast, she seems embarrassed herself at times; there is a brief scene where she has to dance, and her body language suggests she's thinking "Do I still have time to reconsider?" Another problem is the continuity. Where was the script supervisor? Shield's character was supposedly born in the 1940s, but when we see her again as a young teenager, it is clearly the late 1970s. You hear Disco in the background, see the long leather coats, and wait for John Travolta to make a grand entrance.
But enough of my nit-picking. Maybe this is not the finest film, but it is indeed a *fun* film. The subject is intriguing, and the plot itself is good. What it lacks in directorial perfection, it makes up for in soul.
A great small movie, with a not unusual plot, some nice and some OK acting, very nice direction and photography and most of all, a fantastic soundtrack -- Stephane Grappelli (a gypsy jazz violinist who played with Django Rinehardt) does incredibly fine gypsy style music - worth it for this alone! Also fun to see a young, dishy Susan Sarandon and a very young Eric Roberts in this movie. Judd Hirsh is great playing a counter to his usual sweet image (or gruff old guy a la "I'm not Rappaport"). In this movie, Hirsh is positively evil. A great peek into a unique culture of traveling people who have been vilified and chased all over the world.
Strong performances by a stellar cast highlight this unforgettable film about a largely misunderstood population known as the Gypsies. They sing, dance, wear jewelry, and party together. On the other hand, they steal, deceive and con non-Gypsies out of their money with fortune telling. For most viewers, this film shows complex depiction of them. Eric Roberts give a top notch first rate powerful performance as the Gypsy son who sees the error of his people's ways like no schooling. The other cast members are legendary such as a young Brooke Shields playing his baby sister. Susan Sarandon and Judd Hirsch as his parents. Shelley Winters is great as Queen Rachel and Sterling Hayden as the King. This film is a must see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Writer/director Frank Pierson attempts a time period drama ala Francis
Ford Coppola in the GODFATHER-inspired KING OF THE GYPSIES, centering
on those infamously resilient scarf- waring vagabonds. The first act
introduces the self titled leader of con-artist nomads played by
Sterling Hayden, whose energetic performance makes up for the fact we
get little backstory to how his character, Zharko Stepanowicz, rose to
prominence in the first place.
We begin in the past: an abduction of a rival's daughter during a gypsy family party. Zharko wanted this girl for his spoiled son, Groffo, who will later grow up to be a slightly miscast Judd Hirsch, over-reaching the antagonist role with stage play gusto. He's married to a perfectly cast Susan Sarandon as Rose, the true working class hero of the Gypsy family. Reading fortunes and using her young son to steal diamonds, Rose is the breadwinner of the mobile clan. Unfortunately, her only paychecks are the random beatings from her abusive, no-good husband.
Throughout the narration by Eric Roberts playing Dave, the King's grandson and Rose's firstborn, are involving scenes with the young Dave (Matthew Labyorteaux) wreaking havoc around town, turning into dad's getaway driver and eventually becoming a thieving street urchin on his own. When he grows into Eric Roberts he's completely separate from the Gypsy life: an estranged prodigal grandson until Zharko takes him back into the fold.
Eric Roberts, in his first theatrical role, is both intense and vulnerable as an aimless young man who is eventually, on his grandfather's deathbed, given the "King" moniker, thus becoming a target from his jealous dad. Groffo eventually plans to sell his daughter/Dave's sister (Brooke Shields) to another family, and for mother Rose, this is the last straw. She talks Dave into setting things right and the real excitement begins.
Never quite sure if it's a time period melodrama or a violent exploitation style thriller, GYPSIES is always intriguing, especially as Dave, bearing the weight of his new title, has to fight his way out of a cursed life: surviving intense chases on foot or in speeding cars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
King Zharko Stepanowicz? Not bad for what it is...a lightweight version of THE GODFATHER with Sterling Hayden as a gypsy King who names grandson Eric Roberts his heir, thereby overlooking his son Judd Hirsch. Mayhem ensues. The movie is all over the place and the sloppy direction by Frank Pierson is not helped by a lot of hammy acting. Hayden and Shelley Winters lead the pack, which is no surprise, but to see the usually low-key Hirsch and Susan Sarandon ACTING up a storm as gypsies is really disheartening. Roberts, in his debut, is pretty good...he clearly hadn't developed the weirdly affected style that would sustain him through the likes of RUNAWAY TRAIN and THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. This movie was supposed to make him the next John Travolta. It didn't. The supporting cast is a mixed bag including Michael V. Gazzo, Brooke Shields and Annie Potts. There's a very funny scene involving Sarandon trying to retrieve some diamonds she stole with the help of her little son!
Released in 1978, "King of the Gypsies" chronicles the life of an
American gypsy (Eric Roberts in his debut) who resists being made the
king of his clan by his grandfather (Sterling Hayden). Meanwhile his
villainous father (Judd Hirsch) resents that he was passed up and
hostilities mount. Susan Sarandon plays the mother, Shelley Winters the
grandmother, Brooke Shields the young sister and Annette O'Toole &
Annie Potts the potential girlfriends.
The movie plays like a less-epic and lower-budgeted version of 1972's "The Godfather," albeit about Gypsies rather than a Mafia family. The cast and acting are superlative and the tone is gritty realistic. The screenplay was based on Peter Maas' true-life book. The story covers three generations of a Gypsy family from the 40s into the 70s and is narrated by Robert's character, which provides an interesting continuity. It's not great, but it's good enough and provides a window into this unconventional culture, their traveling lifestyle, interactions, work (including "fortune telling"), schemes, music, dancing and misadventures.
The film runs 112 minutes and was shot in New York/New Jersey area.
You will get a wide and varying reaction as to the veracity of what
Peter Maas wrote about the Romany culture in his non-fiction book, King
Of The Gypsies. The information from that source yielded a screenplay
with both Hamlet and Oedipal like qualities in it about the succession
in leadership to a gypsy clan.
The title role in King Of The Gypsies is played by Sterling Hayden and he and his Queen Shelley Winters have as much responsibility to their clan as the Corleones do. But they've got a son in Judd Hirsch who has the worst qualities of Fredo and Sonny Corleone in one package. This is not a guy you want running the clan.
Hayden pins his hopes on his grandson Eric Roberts. But Roberts has walked away from gypsy life and now is even courting a nice all American girl in Annette O'Toole. He's a singing waiter at Mama Leone's which is no more.
Hirsch of course has no desire to be John of Gaunt in his family, son of one king and father of another. This sets up the conflict within the clan that goes active when Hayden dies.
Eric Roberts made his screen debut here and does fine, but the guy to really watch in this film is Judd Hirsch. You can hardly believe that the amiable Alex Reiger from Taxi is played by the same actor. Hirsch's part of Grozzo should be his career role. Had it been played by someone like Al Pacino and would have had King Of The Gypsies come to the screen some 15 to 20 years later it might have gotten an Oscar nomination. At this point Pacino would have been cast in the Roberts part. How Hirsch was overlooked is a mystery that only the gypsies know.
For an insight into a part of human society overlooked, King Of The Gypsies is highly recommended.
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