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ERIC ROBERTS & STERLING HAYDEN IN KING OF THE GYPSIES

year: 1978 cast: Eric Roberts, Sterling Hayden, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields rating: ***1/2
Writer/director Frank Pierson attempts a time period drama ala Francis Ford Coppola in the GODFATHER-inspired KING OF THE GYPSIES, centering on those infamously resilient scarf-waring vagabonds. The first act introduces the self titled leader of con-artist nomads played by Sterling Hayden, whose energetic performance makes up for the fact we get little backstory to how his character, Zharko Stepanowicz, rose to prominence in the first place.

We begin in the past: an abduction of a rival's daughter during a gypsy family party. Zharko wanted this girl for his spoiled son, Groffo, who will later grow up to be a slightly miscast Judd Hirsch, over-reaching the antagonist role with stage play gusto. He's married to a perfectly cast Susan Sarandon as Rose, the true working class hero of the Gypsy family...

Reading fortunes and using her young son to steal diamonds, Rose is the breadwinner of the mobile clan. Unfortunately, her only paychecks are the random beatings from her abusive, no-good husband.
Matthew Labyorteaux as a young Dave driving Judd Hirsch's Groffo
Throughout the narration by Eric Roberts playing Dave, the King’s grandson and Rose’s firstborn, are involving scenes with the young Dave (Matthew Labyorteaux) wreaking havoc around town, turning into dad's getaway driver and eventually becoming a thieving street urchin on his own. When he grows into Eric Roberts he’s completely separate from the Gypsy life: an estranged prodigal grandson until Zharko takes him back into the fold.

Eric Roberts, in his first theatrical role, is both intense and vulnerable as an aimless young man who is eventually, on his grandfather’s deathbed, given the “King” moniker, thus becoming a target from his jealous dad. Groffo eventually plans to sell his daughter/Dave’s sister (Brooke Shields) to another family, and for mother Rose, this is the last straw. She talks Dave into setting things right and the real excitement begins.

Never quite sure if it’s a time period melodrama or a violent exploitation style thriller, GYPSIES is always intriguing, especially as Dave, bearing the weight of his new title, has to fight his way out of a cursed life: surviving intense chases on foot or in speeding cars.
Eric Roberts as Dave
Brooke Shields as Tita
Eric Roberts and Brooke Shields
A brooding Eric Roberts
Sterling Hayden with Eric Roberts
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