THE JERK Shout! Factory 40th Anniversary Edition [Blu-review]

The only thing that I need is this ashtray, this paddle game, and this Blu-ray

Comedy films are replete with comedians who have made the step-up from standup, some more successful than others. The Jerk, Steve Martin’s first feature, actually has roots in some of his early standup material, perhaps one of the reasons for its success and lasting appeal. His hand in writing the feature, channeling his distinct tone and physicality into proceedings, as well as collaboration with director by Carl Reiner (Sibling Rivalry, All of Me), undoubtedly contributed to its success. It’s a film that elevates stupidity to an art form, worthy of celebrating 40 years of cult status with this new release from Shout! Factory.


Hailed as one of the funniest movies of all time, The Jerk stars Steve Martin as Navin Johnson, the adopted son of a poor black sharecropping family in Mississippi. When he learns that the world is a much bigger place than he’d ever imagined, Navin sets out on a quest to find his “special purpose.” His adventures lead him to encounter a would-be assassin, jobs in carnivals and gas stations, a life-saving dog, romance with the girl of his dreams and more money than he could ever spend. But his life in the clouds may come crashing down when the source of his new fame and fortune creates disastrous side effects.

Martin plays Navin Johnson, a “poor black child,” aaaand you can already see where this is going. Adopted at an early age by a family in the deep south, he has never realized his true origins or the difference between himself and his adoptive family, despite his lack of rhythm. When he is finally told the truth about his heritage, he is utterly distraught, eventually only comforted by the discovery of “show tunes” on the radio. In response, he heads for St. Louis, where the music came from, to better understand his heritage. It’s a road trip whereupon he adopts a dog (named Shit-head), gets a job, joins the circus, discovers his special purpose, falls in love, and eventually comes up with an invention that makes him a fortune, before it all comes crashing down around him.

Obviously poor Navin isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. It’s one of the film’s great balancing acts, using his wide-eyed innocence to elicit empathy while wholeheartedly highlighting his stupidity to comedic effect. The Jerk embraces farcical physical comedy, memorable one liners, visual gags, a smattering of vulgarity, and cat juggling. The whole journey is a series of life lessons and insights, as Navin learns how cruel and kind life can be (shit/shinola), as well as differences in social structure. Throughout, there’s a dumb brilliance at play (although Navin’s sweeter side persists), not just in his blithe nature, but tender scenes such as a duet involving his sweetheart. There are times both aspects of the film collide, notably a love ditty involving a thermos that is ingrained on my brain. The Jerk, along with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All of Me, and The Man with Two Brains, provided an education to the sheer genius of Steve Martin; but the film is also stocked with some of the royalty of ‘70s American comedy, including M. Emmet Walsh, Jackie Mason, Mabel King, Carl Reiner, and the flat out incredible Bernadette Peters.

Growing up in the UK, The Jerk marked one of my early forays into US comedy, and notably how it’s often entwined with social and racial commentary. Some may balk at what the film depicts, but Martin doesn’t go “full r-word,” instead playing Navin as a good-natured naive soul, one whose exposure to the world brings hilarious expressions of joy. An innocent man who revels in the simple pleasures of life, such as a finding his name in the phone book for the first time, or enjoying a tuna fish salad sandwich with mayonnaise, a TAB, and a couple of Twinkies. Likewise the plot points that pertain to race are not malicious; Navin is portrayed as genuinely heartbroken to discover he is not black. He maintains a love and bond with this family who raised him throughout the film, even as he goes on a journey to uncover his heritage. In a less deft hand (or attempted today), the premise could come across as crass or insensitive, but the sheer affability of Martin comes through. Maybe it wouldn’t be the kind of film made today, but that only solidifies its cult status.

The Package

Shout! Factory celebrates the 40th anniversary of the film with a brand new 2K scan and restoration. The overall transfer is of good quality, showcasing a natural image, one maintaining good grain and palette, with better detail and overall image quality than any previous release I have encountered. There is some minimal damage and dust from the source evident, but nothing in a way that detracts from the presentation. Special features nicely feed into the talent and legacy of the film:

  • A Conversation with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner: Around 27 minutes in length, it pairs the comedy heavyweights as they chat about the film, notably in terms of how it affected their future careers, and its overall legacy in American comedy.
  • A Conversation with Co-Writers Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias: Just under 25 minutes, the writers of the film give some entertaining insights into the development of the script, problems they had, etc. Shame they couldn’t get the third and final writer Martin involved.
  • Learn to Play “You Belong to Me”: The film features a rather sweet duet scene involving a ukulele and a little ditty; this featurette helps you learn how to play it.
  • The Lost Film Strips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova: This was also on the old Universal release.
  • Theatrical Trailer, Teaser Trailer, Exhibitor’s Trailer, and Radio Spots

The Bottom Line

Even after 40 years The Jerk remains a landmark of American comedy, a testament to the talents of Steve Martin in a film where he elevates stupidity to a work of art. It’s an anniversary well celebrated by Shout! Factory with this release. The only thing that I need is this ashtray, this paddle game, this lamp, and this Blu-ray.

The Jerk 40th Anniversary Edition is available from Shout Select from December 18th, 2018.

About Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory, LLC is a diversified multi-platform media company devoted to producing, uncovering, preserving and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos have spent their entire careers sharing their music, television and film favorites with discerning consumers the world over. Shout! Factory’s entertainment offerings serve up feature films, classic and contemporary TV series, animation, live music and comedy specials. In addition, Shout! Factory maintains a vast entertainment distribution network which delivers culturally relevant programming, movie and audio content to all the leading digital service providers in North America and across multiple platforms. Shout! Factory owns and operates Shout! Studios, Scream Factory, Shout! Factory Kids, Shout! Factory Films, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Timeless Media Group and Shout! Factory TV. These riches are the result of a creative acquisition mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. Shout! Factory is based in Los Angeles, California. For more on Shout! Factory, visit

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