When most people think of Eric Roberts, the infamous Stalked by My Doctor movies spring to mind in addition to several direct-to-video titles, but from the late 70s through to the mid-80s, Roberts was at the peak of his profession. The actor’s debut feature, King of the Gypsies, arguably his best work, came to Blu-ray last December from Imprint Films.
Gypsies: they’re a law unto themselves, descended from the Romani and bound by centuries of tradition. This multi-generational tale follows a modern-day tribe based in New York City led by the proud ‘king’ Zharko Stepanowicz, who wants to pass rule on to his grandson, Dave (Roberts). Despite the boy being uninterested in supporting a lifestyle he doesn’t agree with, drama arises when he’s chosen for the role instead of his temperamental father, Groffo. I don’t know a great deal about gypsies apart from unflattering stereotypes, and Cher’s 1971 hit song, but I think it’s safe to assume there’s a sprinkle of Hollywood in this portrayal, which at times leans a little into mafioso territory, capitalizing on The Godfather’s popularity. Nevertheless, King of the Gypsies is a fascinating movie, as are its central characters.
We experience a skewed view of Dave’s world through his eyes as a child, which is an overwhelming pattern of scheming from his mother, torment at the hands of his violent father, and being doted on by his larger-than-life grandfather, played by a very boisterous Sterling Hayden. Dave has a greater sense of right and wrong that conflicts with the values and rules instilled in him by his elders. As a young adult our lead gains independence and is determined to make a life of his own but struggles to escape the grip of his family. Roberts’ emotionally volatile performance becomes a manifestation of the morality that surrounds archaic and outdated traditions.
King of the Gypsies features an exceptional supporting cast, including Susan Sarandon as Dave’s mother, Rose. Her character is a little one-dimensional and over-the-top, with an ethnic accent and all the gypsy paraphernalia, but she brings vitality to the movie, whereas Judd Hirth as Groffo, is genuinely frightening. Shelly Winters is in the background as the sometimes-loud family matriarch, Queen Rachel, and a young Booke Sheilds makes an appearance later in the film as Dave’s innocent little sister, Tita.
- NEW Audio Commentary by film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer
- NEW Interview with editor Paul Hirsch
- Trailers From Hell: Michael Schlesinger on “King of the Gypsies”
- Vintage Interview with actor Eric Roberts (1978)
While neither a gypsy nor king, Daniel Kremer provides an engaging commentary that is rife with trivia regarding the film’s cast and crew. While informational, the track is easy to listen to thanks to the historian’s conversational delivery. In this disc’s sole new featurette, Paul Hirsh shows how important editing can be on a film with several time jumps – especially with a producer like Dino De Laurentiis, who often insisted on multiple (unnecessary) omissions. Hirsch also shares personal anecdotes about his close friendship with De Laurentiis’ son, who passed away not long after shooting wrapped. The vintage interview with baby-faced Eric Roberts is well worth watching as is the hilarious Trailer’s from Hell commentary by Michael Schlesinger. – by Hannah Lynch
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Unfortunately, Paramount Pictures have not yet seen fit to give King of the Gypsies the restoration it deserves, but Imprint have made do with the standard 1080p, which is bolstered but the label’s premium packaging. The most obvious flaw with the 1.85:1 image is that it’s very washed out for most of the film, which doesn’t do a whole lot for colour. Night scenes, however, look a little sharper.
The single LPCM 2.0 Mono track lacks some volume, and I base that on whether I must move the volume dial below 20 on my amp. Very scientific. Other than that, it’s quality uncompressed audio that I’ve come to appreciate with many of Imprint’s releases.
King of the Gypsies is a jewel among theatrical releases of 1978, despite being a little melodramatic. You’ll find it still available to purchase online through Imprint’s website, and should you happen to be a Law & Order SVU junkie, follow up your viewing of the film with Lost Traveller, featuring the late Mark Margolis as a “Gypsy King”.
KING OF THE GYPSIES
(1978, director: Frank Pierson)
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direct blu-ray screen captures
production still provided by Imprint Films