Screengrab: De Niro and Comedy


from Richard Lutz

There is a nice anecdote about Robert de Niro that is either god’s honest truth..or else a nice anecdote.

It goes like this:

Close to forty years ago, the young de Niro just came off his Johnny Boy tour de force in Mean Streets. He played a crazy street thug who no one could control. He dominated this Scorsese movie in a supporting role. He was great.

Around that time, he auditioned for The Godfather movies. Director Francis Coppola saw something.. .something that a director would only see. He didn’t give him the similar out of control Sonny Corleone character with a lightning temper . He gave de Niro the totally in control young Don Vito Corleone character in Godfather II. There was something there, Coppola felt, that he knew would work.

He was right. There’s something there in de Niro that seems to work whether in stories about gangster, boxers, cops, crazies or…more gangsters.

But not really comedy.

But if you want to get close to de Niro’s funny bone, check out Midnight Run (Tues; ITV4, 22.00). He plays a bounty hunter trying to get a mob accountant back across the States after he skipped bail. It is part buddy movie, part urban caper, part road movie. De Niro is brilliant as the tough wry bountyman trying to do his job on an appetite of cigarettes, bad food and cynicism.

His prisoner, played by Charles Grodin, is a crooked white collar criminal with the wide eyes and a college boy smile that could melt in your mouth.

The two actors are terrific together. It is a very funny film with a very funny script and great supporting work from FBI agent Yaphet Kotto and mafia tough guy Dennis Farina. De Niro never came close (not even in Meet The Fockers) to approaching comedy this way again. It is one of his finest roles.

Let’s move on then and I have to hand it to ITV4. Sometimes its schedulers come up with some great stuff. How about back to back Apocalypse Now (Mon; 21.00) and then Get Shorty (technically Tues, 0.05)? Set the recorder if you can’t make it through the night.

The former just lets rip about the Joseph Conrad-esque horror of the Vietnam disaster. The latter is an hilarious take on Hollywood gangster films- John Travolta gets it right as a mobster who finds movie making just may be in his blood. Excellent back up from Gene Hackman and James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano to many of you) and, hey what is this, another great job from Dennis Farina.

Pack your bags later in the week for a classic Alec Guiness vehicle in The Ladykillers (Thur; Ch4 13.20). It’s an Ealing comedy about loony criminals and a madcap crime. The cast includes Peter Sellers, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom and a young Frankie Howerd.

Later that night it stays British with Four Weddings and a Funeral (Thur; Ch5, 22.00). Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell romp about in rural boutique hotels and a London none of us can afford.