Tag Archives: Richard Pryor

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handicapped men solve crime.

Wally (Ricard Pryor) is blind while Dave (Gene Wilder) is deaf. The two initially don’t get along, but find that they must work together after they witness a murder and the bad guys (Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey) come after them. The police are no help and threaten to jail Wally and Dave when they find them unreliable as witnesses so they figure out a way to escape and go on the run only to have their handicaps and personalities more of an obstacle than anything else.

This was the third teaming of Wilder and Pryor and it’s embarrassingly bad. The script is just a cheesy retooling of the mistaken identity scenarios of their first two films, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy with the handicap element thrown in to make it seem different, but it really isn’t. The laughs are definitely fleeting and in fact there are only two segments that even elicit a chuckle. One is an amusing barroom brawl while the other one features a gun showdown between the blind Pryor and the equally blind Anthony Zerbe.

Not only is the clichéd concept highly uninspired, but it depends on nonlogic to help propel it. For instance Wally, Dave and Wally’s sister Adele, played by Kirsten Childs, escape from the men chasing them by hiding inside a hotel room’s vent, but I’ve never come upon a vent in any hotel room that I’ve stayed at big enough to hold one person let alone three. Also, most vent screens must be screwed in from the outside, so how were these three people able to get the screen back on and fastened once they were inside the vent?

The chemistry between the stars is missing and their banter nothing more than strained babbling. The only moment where it shows slight potential is when the two men explained to each other how they came to have the afflictions that they do and how they learned to adjust to them making me believe this could’ve been a far better movie had it chucked the corny murder storyline and instead focused on the two trying to run a business or learning to rely on each to help them through the struggles of daily life.

Pryor, for what it’s worth, easily upstages Wilder who reportedly never liked the script and worked to rewrite it to make it less mocking to those with handicaps. There’s also a scene shot at night with the two talking on a park bench where it appears that some black object is trying to slide its way out of Wilder’s left nostril. I think it was simply the shadowy lighting, but I found it quite distracting and wondered why the cinematographer didn’t catch this while they were filming it and had the scene reshot at a different angle.

Alan North is engaging as the exasperated police sergeant and I wished that instead of him being an adversary to the two men he would’ve reluctantly helped them along. The two female cast members are generic, but Kevin Spacey, who speaks in an accent and has a large unexplained protrusion on his left check, is excellent and the best thing in this otherwise forgettable film.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Soldier returns from Vietnam.

Eddie (Richard Pryor), who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, finally returns home, but finds that things have passed him by while he was gone. His wife (Lynne Moody) has fallen in love with another man and his mother (Olivia Cole) is in a nursing facility after having suffered a stroke. Because he was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to war crimes while under duress at the prison camp the army decides to withhold his veteran’s benefits and having no other source of income he decides to rob a bank, but things don’t go as planned.

The film, which is based on the book of the same name by James Kirkwood Jr., was meant to be a drama, but when Pryor signed on it was rewritten with comedy scenes added. Initially I thought Pryor wouldn’t be a good choice for the part as he is so well known as a funnyman, but it is actually his strong performance that helps carry the film through its rough spots.

The story starts out strong and despite having so many other movies that came out during that period that dealt with the same topic it is still quite gripping and revealing. The scenes dealing with Pryors’ incarceration and the harsh realities that he faces afterwards in civilian life all ring true and helps to make this an excellent movie for the first 45 minutes.

The film though starts to lose its footing with the introduction of Margot Kidder’s character. She plays a high-priced call girl who decides to go to bed with Pryor without charging him any money, but why? A sex worker isn’t going to make much of a living if she sleeps with guys for free and then getting into a relationship with him afterwards is even more farfetched. What’s so special about this guy that she falls in love with him compared to all the other men that she has already met through her line of work? Things get even dumber when Pryor insults her during an argument while visiting her apartment, but instead of throwing him out she leaves while saying she hopes he’ll ‘be gone’ when she gets back, but how can she trust he’ll not angrily tear up the place while she’s away? If it’s her apartment she should be in control and not the one who goes running.

Pryor’s character is confusing too. He becomes extremely nervous about robbing a bank to the point that he pees in his pants, but you would presume being a veteran and having seen the horrors of war he would find bank robbing to be not as tough. He also manages while bartering with some hardened gangsters to find the tenacity to turn them down when they give him a lowball monetary offer on some bank bonds that he has stolen, but how does he find the ability to be brazen in that situation, which many people would find equally intimidating, but not the other?

Also, Olivia Cole looks too young to be playing his stroke-victim mother and in fact was Pryor’s exact same age. I was expecting to see an old, withered woman with gray hair, but instead we get shown a black-haired woman looking around 40. Certainly there had to have been an older African American actresses available that would’ve been more age appropriate, so why not cast them?

Spoiler Alert!

What really kills it though is the ending where Pryor steals a briefcase full of bonds and uses that to get a large sum of money. Tacking-on such a fanciful-like ending where he is able to pull off a robbery that had long odds of succeeding minimizes all of the real world issues that came before it. Having a film start off by exploring realistic issues only to write-it-all-off with a ‘feel-good’ ending discredits the subject matter by taking a complex problem and then ‘solving it’ with a very unrealistic solution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He spends thirty million.

Richard Pryor plays Monty Brewster a struggling baseball pitcher in the minor leagues who has never earned more than $11,000 in a year, but finally gets his chance to be rich via a deceased uncle (Hume Cronyn) who leaves him a vast fortune, but with conditions. He must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to get $300 million and if not whatever is left over from the unspent $30 million will be given over to a law firm. He is also given the option to accept $1 million upfront with no strings, but he chooses the challenge only to find that spending a lot of money is even harder than making it.

The film is based on the 1902 novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon and this marked the seventh film version of that story. The novel though does things differently. In that version Brewster has already inherited one million, but given the chance to attain seven million if can spend the one million during a full year, which is a little more believable. Watching Brewster trying to spend the 30 million on any dumb thing that comes along gets dizzying and hard to keep track of until it eventually plays itself out by becoming a one-joke concept throwing out the same punchline over-and-over. Why the amount was raised to 30 million and the time span to spend it shortened isn’t clear. Possibly it was for inflation or simply to make it ‘more comical’, but it ends up getting wildly overblown.

With so many people out there who are poor and desperate it’s hard to be sympathetic to Brewster’s dilemma. Spending a lot of money foolishly simply to serve his own greed and attain even more isn’t exactly a noble mission. Had he at least tried to spend it on things that could help others, like in the novel, it might’ve made a little more of an emotional impact. The Pryor character is also portrayed as having very little confidence and therefore I would think in reality he would’ve just accepted the million, which in his eyes would’ve been a lot of money anyways and never bothered to take the challenge, which most anyone else would’ve found monumental and impossible.

Pryor isn’t funny at all and John Candy is far more amusing as his loyal friend, but unfortunately isn’t seen enough. Stephen Collins is good as the duplicitous Warren Cox and this also marks David White’s final film appearance, who is best known for playing Larry Tate on ‘Bewitched’ and whose name is strangely not listed in the film’s opening credits despite having a major role. Yakov Smirnoff and Rick Moranis can also be seen in brief bits.

The film was directed by Walter Hill who later referred to this as ‘an aberration’ and having only done it to ‘improve his bank account’. His forte is in action flicks and his attempt at comedy turns terribly flat from its first frame to its last. It is also in many ways similar to Trading Places, which coincidentally was written by the same screenwriter Hershel Weingrod, but that film was far better.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Busy Body (1967)

busy body

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the dead body.

George Norton (Sid Caesar) is a nebbish mama’s boy who, for whatever reason, gets taken in by Charley (Robert Ryan) a Chicago mob boss. Charley even gives George a seat on his board of governors. When a fellow crime boss (Bill Dana) gets killed in a freak accident it is George who selects a blue suit for the corpse to wear at the funeral. Unfortunately that blue suit was lined with a million dollars and Charley demands that George dig up the body and retrieve the money, but when he does he finds that the body is gone and thus begins a long, winding, ‘madcap’ search for the missing body and money.

Noted horror director/producer William Castle decided late in his career to give comedy a stab and this is the result. The beginning is mildly amusing, but the humor gets terribly strained and a 100 minute runtime is just too long for such trite material. Everything gets suppressed into silliness with an overplayed music score that has too much of a playful quality to it making the whole thing thoroughly ingrained on the kiddie level from start-to-finish.

Dom DeLuise has an amusing bit as a mortician that would really rather be a hairdresser and Kay Medford is quite funny as George’s doting mother, but the rest of the supporting cast is wasted, which includes Richard Pryor, in his film debut, playing in a role that does not take advantage of his comic skill. Caesar is just not leading man material and his vaudeville-like shtick is quite passé and predictable. His co-star Ryan is far funnier and without having to try half as hard.

The plot goes off on wild tangents until it becomes impossible to follow and quite pointless. The whole production is horribly dated and will not appeal to kids or adults. In fact the film’s intended audience has long ago passed away making this thing a silly relic of its time and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

In God We Tru$t (1980)

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monk travels to L.A.

With his monastery in desperate need of money Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is sent out into the secular world for the first time in order to find donations to help keep the place solvent. Unfortunately he travels to southern California where the wild and jaded lifestyles of the people come as a shock to him. He meets Mary (Louise Lasser) a hooker who takes him into her home and the two eventually fall in love, but he also comes into contact with the nefarious Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Andy Kaufman) a televangelist who wants to exploit the naïve Ambrose for his own gain.

Feldman with his famous buggy eyes is a delight and the fact that he did all of his own stunts, some of which were dangerous including having him dragged down a busy city behind a truck while clutching a rope and standing on a skateboard does indeed deserve credit for bravery, but his character is too annoyingly naïve. A full grown man is going to know about sex regardless if he is a monk or not and he is certainly going to know what female breast are. By having the character so incredibly out-of-touch with the jaded world makes him seem inhuman and like an alien from another planet, which isn’t funny even on a farcical level and an insult to anyone who has chosen a spiritual or more isolated lifestyle.

This pretty much explains the problem with the whole film as the satire is too broad. Poking fun at corrupt street preachers and televangelists is nothing new and thus this thing becomes derivative and one-dimensional from the very beginning. The movie also shifts awkwardly from silly slapstick to parody with running gags that become tiring and certain other bits that seem better suited for a kiddie flick.

There is very little that is genuinely funny although seeing two street preachers ram their vehicles into each other in a sort-of pissing match is amusing as is Peter Boyle’s ventriloquist act using a dummy made to look like Moses. The final scene with Richard Pryor as a computerized version of God and Feldman’s attempts to convert him to Christianity isn’t bad either.

The real scene stealer though is Kaufman who with a bouffant blonde wig plays the perfect caricature of a greedy preacher and I loved his meltdown during one of his religious broadcasts. I also got a kick out of his sink, which has one faucet for cold another for hot and then a third for holy water.

The casting of Lasser as a prostitute was great because she doesn’t fit the caricature of an 80’s Hollywood hooker and has more of the realistic and less flattering looks of an actual streetwalker. However, the film is a grab bag of hit-or-miss jokes many of which fall flat and with a runtime that is much too long for such slight material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marty Feldman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS