Lenny Bruce: Swear To Tell The Truth

  • 1998
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

At a time when the name "Lenny Bruce" is more likely to produce a "who?" than a howl, Robert Weide's portrait of the notorious "sick" stand-up comic, narrated by Robert De Niro, comes as a welcome and long overdue tribute. Forty years after he first horrified mainstream America, Bruce's material remains provocative and pertinent, but there's an even more...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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At a time when the name "Lenny Bruce" is more likely to produce a "who?" than a howl, Robert Weide's portrait of the notorious "sick" stand-up comic, narrated by Robert De Niro, comes as a welcome and long overdue tribute. Forty years after he first horrified

mainstream America, Bruce's material remains provocative and pertinent, but there's an even more valuable lesson to be learned from the outrageous circumstances that short-circuited Bruce's career and contributed to his untimely death in 1966. Writer-director Robert Weide patches together a solid

biography of Bruce through the fond reminiscences of Bruce's mother, stand-up comedienne Sally Marr (who remembers taking Lenny to his first burlesque show when he was 12); Bruce's ex-wife and early comedic partner, stripper "Hot" Honey Harlow; and their daughter, Kitty, whom exploitation fans may

remember as Donut in SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. Weide also unearths some priceless early Bruce footage -- a never-before-seen appearance on the "Steve Allen Show," clips from Bruce's one and only starring film role (the 1956 grade-Z poverty-row flick DANCE HALL RACKET), and a tasty fantasy sequence from

Bruce's own unfinished art-film, LEATHER JACKET (think a very heterosexual Kenneth Anger). Live recordings and bits from Bruce's comedy albums give some idea of what Bruce was like on stage -- a swinging blend of coarse barrelhouse humor, scabrous social satire and hipster swagger -- but

Weide's real focus is in his film's subtitle: How Bruce's constant attacks on hypocrisy of the status quo in general (and the Catholic church in particular) lead to repeated run-ins with the law, climaxing in a 1964 arrest in New York City on obscenity charges that would result in a travesty of a

trial, the end of Bruce's career and a morphine overdose. Bruce devotees will appreciate Weide's clear-eyed reverence; anyone unfamiliar with the details of Bruce's end will probably be more appalled by the shocking disregard shown the comic's civil liberties than anything in his repertoire.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: At a time when the name "Lenny Bruce" is more likely to produce a "who?" than a howl, Robert Weide's portrait of the notorious "sick" stand-up comic, narrated by Robert De Niro, comes as a welcome and long overdue tribute. Forty years after he first horrif… (more)

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