Pioneers of comedy. Those talents that have blazed a trail, forging ahead with material unconventional for their time, forcing evolution, allowing a 'new wave' of talent to come to the fore front. The original deal without whom other comics would never have been discovered. There are not as many as you might think; Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan allowing others such as Lenny Bruce, Tommy Cooper, Monty Python, the Comic Strip team. All are giants in their field, each pioneers of sorts with traceable descendents to this day. There is one, however, that could it could be argued paved the way for an entire race. During the 1960's black people were still very much the minority, struggling for identity, respect and liberty. A mainstream black comedian was practical unheard of, the first was the all round entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., closely followed by Bill Cosby though both were part of a white majority and acted as such in both dress and manor. Coming out of a poverty stricken childhood where he was brought up in his grand mothers brothel where he suffered abuse and the trauma of watching his mother turn tricks Richard Pryor was to become one of the biggest names in the stand up circuit ever, his legacy remains to this day for without him, black comedy as we know it today would not exist.
His early career was rather undistinguished (he was on the same bill as Cosby) until 1967 when he famously walked out of a packed Aladdin Hotel in Los Vegas to hone his act introducing the profanity he would become most famous for. He had a talent for talking about life of which he was an astute observer and he presenting the truth as he sees with energy and expletives! Subject matter includes black life on the streets, drug culture, sex, as well as the many tragedies that his own life has comprised, such as cocaine addiction, numerous marriages, heart attacks and surgery and the famous incident of setting himself on fire. He gave a voice to marginal members of the black community such as tramps and junkies imbuing them with humanity in even their most despicable. He also gives a real voice to creatures as wild animals; his own pet monkey, various dogs and deer. Pryor's caricatures of white people were performed with such humour and truth that those being mocked often laugh the hardest. With such a prodigious talent as his, it was not long before TV and Film started to take notice. A short lived TV series was cancelled because of the controversial nature of his act, and like any true pioneer was unwilling to temper his act for the censors. So it was with film where his future prospered. Making upward of forty films many were forgettable, few were watchable and some were successful. Apart from his own stand up films, much of his contribution to films was watered down to being unrecognisable as he became swallowed by the Hollywood machine. Never stopped him from becoming phenomenally successful, his pay packet for Superman III at four million dollars was more than Superman (Chris Reeves) himself. To celebrate his contribution to the film industry Universal have packaged together four of his best known films in a handy box set, though it should be noted these are exactly the same discs that are already available as individual titles. Chosen to represent his talents are Car Wash (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), Brewster's Millions (1984) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).
Car Wash is a slice of daily life of the working man in a car wash in Los Angelis. We follow a day in the lives of the workers starting with the arrival in the morning to their eventual departure for the day. It is a light comedy set to near constant seventies pop provided by Rose Royce as we follow the highs and lows of a team of predominantly black workers as they make light of their job, situation and life. Pryor's part in Car Wash is just a cameo; he plays Daddy Cool, a filthy rich evangelist travelling around with the Pointer Sisters. There is no plot to the film; it is a series of events linked by the wash but it is kept to a very even pace and hops along nicely to the beat of the music. Instead of delivering a social commentary on contemporary life along side the hardships faced by young black youths in seventies America, writer Joel Schumacher delivers a foot tapping smile-athon and although he attempts something a little more serious at the end it is all too light hearted. A film of its time but with a charm that makes it undeniably wonderful.
Even though the set contains this film, my check discs did not include it, the following blurb is purely to describe and outline the film; I obviously cannot review a disc I have not seen as per the AVForum promise: Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder star as a wannabe actor and a wannabe playwright who take a promotional job that requires them to dress up like gigantic woodpeckers. Unfortunately, a pair of thieves, also decked out in woodpecker suits, rob a bank not long after Wilder and Pryor make their first public appearance. The boys are arrested and sentenced to 120 years each in prison where they go ...Stir Crazy. It is a shame that this film was not included for full review; it marked the second outing for Wilder and Pryor after the renowned success of Silver Streak, and one that manages to recapture that wonderful chemistry the pair share on screen; this opinion is based on seeing the film and is not meant in any way as a review of the disc.
Montgomery Brewster (Pryor) is a minor league baseball pitcher playing for the Hackensack Balls whose fortune is literally about to be changed. His, until now, unknown uncle has died and bequeathed him a fortune of three hundred million dollars. However there is a large catch, in order to get the full inheritance he must spend thirty million dollars in just thirty days having no assets at the end of that time and tell no one about it. The film is then an exercise in excess and Brewster makes the most outrageous purchases to get his inheritance with hilarious consequences. Pryor is teamed with the late great John Candy for this outing, and both play extremely loveable characters. They manage a terrific chemistry Candy always allowing Pryor to improvise about his character creating a memorable and sympathetic part in what could so easily have become shallow. Cynically viewed as a piece of eighties consumerism, Brewster's Millions remains a light hearted and above all funny film that has lost none if its charm.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) is a quiet, likeable store owner who happens to be deaf. Wallace 'Wally' Karue (Richard Pryor) is a loud brash blind guy trying to prove to the world that he is not disabled and tries to pass himself off as sited all the time. When Wally answers an ad to work in Dave's hotel front tobacconists the pair have an instant rapport. However when a man is shot in the lobby, Dave, unable to hear the shot, but able to identify the assailants legs, and Wally, unable to see the assailant, but able to hear and smell her, are both unwittingly arrested for the murder. When it turns out the murdered man was there to collect gambling money from Wally the pair become the prime suspects and it is left up to them to escape to catch the killers and thus prove their innocence. See No Evil is the third and penultimate film that Wilder and Pryor worked together on. This outing was far more comedic with a little action in nature compared to their previous films and the change of pace worked fine for them. The pair has an on screen chemistry that puts an audience at ease, allowing the most outrageous situations to become believable. Both play sympathetic characters, Wally for all his brashness is just as afraid and venerable as Dave, though for very different reasons. Director Arthur Hiller runs a tight ship, everything is keep at a good pace, the jokes come thick and fast, Wilder and Pryor bouncing off each other with an ease the belies the work they put in. Both actors put in a deal of research for their respective roles and it all shows on screen, Pryor is particularly good dealing with blindness. I remember seeing this film when it first came out and loving it then, I still love it now and never tire of watching their antics. It never stoops to the cheap laughs, treats its disabilities with the respect they deserve; an intelligent, if daft, piece of excellence.
Pryor made some forty films over a period of thirty years and picking just four to represent his career is no mean feat. In this set Universal has chosen a safe set, all are memorable films with memorable performances from Pryor. However, none of his filmic out put can hold a candle to his stand up performances so I would have thought a box set of those performances might have been a more worth while enterprise to celebrate his life. As a set the DVD themselves are nothing more than reissues of already available discs repackaged as a sparkly new set. Neither are there any significant extras, personally I'd have preferred a fifth extras only disc, that at least would have made a significant improvement and made the set worth something; as it is there is nothing to inspire anyone to upgrade. Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but I just can't get over the feeling that this set nothing more than a cheap rehash, someone with Pryor's talent deserves more respect.
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