25. New York, New York (1977)
Runtime: 2 hr. 43 min.
The Pitch: She’s a small-time USO singer. He’s a shit-talking jazz saxophonist. This relationship has disaster written all over it, because when the creative types get together? Oh boy. De Niro and Minnelli headline Scorsese’s homage to big-band musicalia of the ’40s, and it merits saying: De Niro is a big-time asshole. And not in the “oh god this is fascinating” Raging Bull way. He’s a brute and a bully and well, more soon.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli, Lionel Stander, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place, Dick Miller, Clarence Clemons, and Jack Haley in an uncredited cameo
Awards: Four Golden Globe nominations. Shame those aren’t real awards.
Needle Drop: So, the title song is a bit huge. Just remember: Liza did hers before Frank did his. Arguably better. Just watch Liza go to town.
Film School: Scorsese goes hog wild in the “Happy Endings” number. It’s got visual allusions to Summer Stock, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, and more. Scorsese flaunts it like a student who really got into musicals over the weekend.
Speed-o-Meter: The films rushes and drags. When Scorsese is working out Minnelli and Doyle’s long-term romance, the movie is old studio somber (with temper tantrums and star personae, but still). But when Scorsese jumps into the music of things, letting De Niro play around to Tommy Dorsey, giving Minnelli a nine-minute homage to musicals, it’s record night at Scorsese’s house, and he has a fat stack of reference material at the ready.
Hot Mess: Tensions were high, drugs were involved (read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls for fun). Minnelli and De Niro’s fight in a cab got so heated that Scorsese wound up in the hospital. Scorsese walked off set at one point, pissed at De Niro, and Scorsese’s longtime friend Steven Prince had to direct a scene. And that’s the stuff off-screen. De Niro’s cretinously mean the entire story.
Editor’s Note on Steven Prince: Watch Scorsese’s short doc American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince. It’s so drugs. Prince is that one friend we all have that has seen truly crazy shit in his lifetime and stayed alive just long enough to share it all.
Not-So-Sound Mix: Scorsese’s almost always been a one-editor director, but on of New York, New York, three editors were required: Bert Lovitt, David Ramirez, and Tom Rolf. Bless ‘em. They had the unenviable task of making sense out of New York, New York after Scorsese allowed virtually all dialogue to be improvised, and when dailies hit post, the movie required a big band of editors to get it together. Part of the blame, as suggested by Biskind’s book, was Scorsese’s escalating drug problems and loss of control for the material.
Analysis: New York, New York sings. Often. But there’s one big, fat fucking sour note curdling the thing, and his name is Robert De Niro aka Jimmy Doyle. Like, there’s pre-La La Land stuff about stubborn lovers and talented souls at each other’s throats and hearts here. And Scorsese goes full blown Old Hollywood love letter, influenced by moving to LA in the ‘70s and being smitten by studio system nostalgia that gilds this film.
But man is De Niro the world’s biggest bully. Impulsive, insufferable. He screams at Liza in a way that makes her and the viewer deeply uncomfortable. He practically drags the film by its arm to the finish, impulsively pushing the movie scene to scene. He’s a rotten shit, he’s abusive to everyone in the movie in a way that raises far too many questions, and he’s the reason this is a hard-to-watch affair. And that’s saying something when the guy played Jake LaMotta.