7.2/10
52,369
146 user 75 critic

The Jerk (1979)

Trailer
2:32 | Trailer
A simpleminded, sheltered country boy suddenly decides to leave his family home to experience life in the big city, where his naivete is both his best friend and his worst enemy.

Director:

Carl Reiner

Writers:

Steve Martin (screenplay), Carl Gottlieb (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Steve Martin ... Navin / Cat Juggler (as Pig Eye Jackson also)
Bernadette Peters ... Marie
Catlin Adams ... Patty Bernstein
Mabel King ... Mother
Richard Ward ... Father
Dick Anthony Williams ... Taj
Bill Macy ... Stan Fox
M. Emmet Walsh ... Madman
Dick O'Neill ... Frosty
Maurice Evans ... Hobart
Helena Carroll Helena Carroll ... Hester
Renn Woods ... Elvira (as Ren Wood)
Pepe Serna ... Punk #1
Sonny Terry Sonny Terry ... Blues Singer
Brownie McGhee Brownie McGhee ... Blues Singer (as Brownie McGee)
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Storyline

Navin is an idiot. He grew up in Mississippi as the adopted son of a black family, but on his 18th birthday he feels he wants to discover the rest of the world and sets out for St. Louis. There everyone exploits his naivete, until a simple invention brings him a fortune. Written by Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A rags to riches to rags story See more »

Genres:

Comedy

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In the beginning of the movie, Navin is at the dinner table with his family and he bursts into tears. The director intentionally did not tell the actors who played his younger siblings about the scene. The astonished expression on their faces is genuine, since they did not know what was happening. See more »

Goofs

When Navin is chasing Billy on the train, his voice is not synchronized with the audio. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Navin R. Johnson: Huh? I am *not* a bum. I'm a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends, and... uh... my thermos. Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' down in Mississippi...
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Crazy Credits

Pig Eye Jackson - Cat Juggler (Steve Martin) See more »

Alternate Versions

On many commercial-TV airings, the sniper's profanity when he's shooting at Navin is dubbed or edited. See more »

Connections

Featured in Count It Down: Funniest Movies of All Time (2013) See more »

Soundtracks

Pick A Bale Of Cotton
Sung by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (as Brownie McGee)
Words and Music by Leadbelly (as Huddie Ledbetter)
Collected and Adapted by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax
See more »

User Reviews

 
Overall, "The Jerk" is one of the most original, wacky, and wild and crazy (Martin reference intended) comedies ever. See it for laughs, plain and simple.
11 March 2003 | by MovieAddict2016See all my reviews

The Jerk - 4.5/5 Country: US Language: English Year: 1979 Rating: R Director: Carl Reiner Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Mable King, M. Emmet Walsh

REVIEW BY JOHN ULMER

Steve Martin had basically gained a burst of fame before starring in Carl Reiner's wacky comedy "The Jerk." Martin was fresh off hosting "Saturday Night Live" a few times, and had made a few albums and stand-up gigs. But "The Jerk" is what established him as an on-screen comedian.

Martin plays a lame-brain fool, who lives with his family on a plantation farm. Only one problem. His family is black, he is white. After coming to facts about his racial status, Martin flees from the scene and heads for the downtown gig. He is suckered out of - and into - many things throughout the film. Not as much of because he is innocent as he is dumb, however. Unlike comedies like "Blast From the Past" where the main character is treated bad and doesn't realize it because he/she is innocent and has no idea what to expect from life, Martin gets treated bad and doesn't realize it because he is stupid, not only because he is innocent.

The Jerk starts out working at a gas station. Some of the funniest scenes occur here. One, is when a madman with a sniper rifle is shooting at Martin and misses. Martin, being The Jerk, thinks the man is purposely shooting at paint cans. He says, "Hey! It's the cans! He must hate the cans! Stay away from the cans!" Another is when he gets a home...living in a bathroom. ("Like it? I LOVE it!") And one that has always gotten my funnybone is when Martin looks in a phone book and sees his name. "I'm a person now!" He yells. This is true, of course. All of us feel like more than just skin after seeing our names printed somewhere. I recall first seeing my name as a reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes. It feels great to have your name written somewhere, because you know that someone, somewhere, saw that name and put it in. Someone read one of my movie reviews. Though Martin's character takes it to a new extreme, it is nevertheless true. When you sign your name on a document, the document becomes active and real. So why should it not be the same with Martin's character? Perhaps while he is a jerk, he is at the same time smart. Nah, he's just stupid.

"The Jerk" carved a place for itself in history. I had really never seen any comedy like it before. "Airplane" was released the same year, and the humor was much the same, as well as the editing (see below), but I saw "The Jerk" first, and it was an odd surprise. The humor is by itself. It is so odd and original that it makes it one of the best. Martin went on to make the less-successful "The Man with Two Brains," also directed by Reiner. The film is much the same, but does not work to the same degree. Too many jokes fall flat. Unlike "The Jerk," where the jokes start to fall flat in the middle and pick up again at the end, "The Man with Two Brains" had its hit-and-misses almost the whole way through. It was a fine comedy, but not great at all.

Steve Martin brings his character to life. He is one of the absolute dumbest, innocent, naive individuals I have ever seen on screen. But what makes him work so well is Martin. Martin behind it all. But the thing is, Martin dissolves himself completely into character. He is so stupid that you can't help but laugh. In "The Naked Gun" (1988) Leslie Nielsen used a dumb character and played him smart, deadpan, serious. Like everything he was saying and doing was normal. Martin does the same, but in a different way. He doesn't play him deadpan and smart. He plays a dumb character dumb, having no idea what he is saying and doing is wrong. And another interesting aspect is that even though Martin disguises himself as The Jerk, we can still see Martin shining through. Martin can play versatile actors (see "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" - 1987), but Martin is still inside. We can see him shining through. That is why Steve Martin is one of my favorite comedians. He can envelop his character, yet at the same time keep the Martin charm. That's why I can usually expect solid laughs from a Martin vehicle.

Director Carl Reiner does a few out-of-place cuts in "The Jerk," just like he did in "The Man with Two Brains," but I think that it worked overall. Part of what makes this movie so funny and goofy is how the editing is so odd. So many scenes are out of place and pay nothing to the film. But like I said, that is what makes it so original and stupid.

The film loses some steam halfway through, and the jokes sometimes fall flat, but overall the comedy is one of the best of its genre. I would say it is Martin's best comedy, but that spot is saved for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" which co-stars John Candy. THAT movie is Steve Martin's best, and always will be.

Overall, "The Jerk" is one of the most original, wacky, and wild and crazy (Martin reference intended) comedies ever. See it for laughs, plain and simple.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 December 1979 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Easy Money See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$5,935,025, 16 December 1979

Gross USA:

$73,691,419

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$73,691,419
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (Super 8-version in 2 parts)

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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