You may not know it to look at me, but I come from Gypsy blood. My ancestors (on my father’s side) were all gypsies. I’m a little too far removed from that whole culture to verify for this flick’s authenticity, but a lot of what I’ve heard from my family is in this film (fortune telling, breaking eggs, burying money, etc.). Since I’m a big Eric Roberts fan, and this is his screen debut, it seemed like fate that I should check this movie out. Turns out this flick is pretty great. It ranks right up there with Snatch and Traveller as one of the finest examples of gypsy cinema ever made.
In fact, I’d go so far as to call this The Godfather of Gypsy Movies. Like that film, it’s a methodically paced, wonderfully textured look into a family operating outside the law, and features excellent performances by several up and coming actors.
Many people dis on my boy Eric Roberts and favor his more famous sibling Julia, but I gotta say this to them: Watch him in The Pope of Greenwich Village. His performance is miles beyond anything his multi-billion dollar sister’s ever done. Check out Roberts in Best of the Best. It’s better than Sleeping with the Enemy any day. And if anyone thought Julia was good in Pretty Woman, they haven’t seen shit. I got three letters for you, people: DOA. The scene where Eric Roberts stole all the other fighter’s powers and used it against them? Well that’s the kind of thing that cinema is all about.
But I digress.
Roberts stars as a gypsy who turns his back on his family at the age of twelve to live a life as a pickpocket and scam artist. When his grandfather, “The King of the Gypsies” (Sterling Hayden) is on his deathbed, he names Roberts as his successor. This royally pisses off Roberts’ father, played by Judd Hirsch; who is next in line to be King, but also happens to be a complete and hopeless loser. Hirsch tries to have Roberts killed and inadvertently murders his sister (Brooke Shields) instead, so Roberts has to grab a shotgun and go out for some gypsy justice.
Even though the first half of the film (which takes place in “the old days”) is a lot more involving than Roberts’ quest for revenge, King of the Gypsies is still immensely absorbing all the way through. Director Frank (A Star is Born) Pierson evocatively captured the gypsy lifestyle and some of the scams they pulled on people were pretty awesome. (I especially liked having the kid swallow a diamond and shit it out.)
The performances are uniformly great all around. Roberts had a burning intensity that he rarely got to show in his later direct to DVD days, and he really stands out here. Susan Sarandon is also aces as his long suffering mother (she even shows off her breast at one point) and Hirsch makes the audience hate his despicable character with ease. Hayden was obviously having fun chewing the scenery and Shields did a memorable job with her limited screen time as well.
To pre-order your King of the Gypsies DVD, or any others from Legend’s new line of DVD’s (all licensed from Paramount Pictures), check out www.legendfilms.net.