Tag Archives: Richard Pryor

Silver Streak (1976)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Silver Streak</strong> (1976)

(On TV, January 2019) There are some classical comedy pairings out there, and the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor was one of them—while they made four movies together, the last one was reportedly a dud, and only the first two are acknowledged hits. Silver Streak is the first of their four movies, and it’s still a good watch today, even as it reflects another time. This blend of comedy and thrills features Wilder as a meek book editor travelling by train from Los Angeles to Chicago. Of course, stuff happens and before long he’s trying to piece together a murder mystery in between being thrown off the train and collaborating with a petty criminal to get back on it. Despite Pryor and Wilder’s comic chemistry (only they could make the blackface sequence work without being offensive) and the lighthearted nature of the film, Silver Streak arguably works better as a semi-Hitchockian thriller. The structure of the film itself is amusing: as we settle down for a comfortable train-bound mystery, our protagonist spends as much time off the train than on it, and Pryor joins the movie only midway through. Obviously shot in Canada (as per the train livery), it’s a comedy with some impressive physical action staging along the way, all the way to its destructive climax. Wilder’s quirky charm works well in grounding the film, allowing Pryor to get away with more outrageous dialogue. While Silver Streak is not quite polished (in a way so typical of mid-1970s production) and occasionally feels scattered between different genres, it pulls itself together in time for the finale and leaves viewers happy for having seen it.

The Toy (1982)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Toy</strong> (1982)

(On TV, December 2018) There is a sharp racial edge to the premise of The Toy—the idea that a black man can be essentially bought by a rich white boy to act as his plaything. It completely fits within Richard Pryor’s comic persona, as well as the irreverent nature of early-1980s comedy. (I’m not sure the same movie could be made today.) Still, what matters in a movie is the execution, and that’s where The Toy loses a lot of its lustre—once given the basic elements, much of the script feels far too familiar to be interesting. Of course the boy needs a friend; of course, the protagonist won’t ultimately lose his integrity; of course, they’ll actually befriend each other.) Further compounding the problem is the often-juvenile nature of the screenplay—it’s fine to have a largely kid-driven film with an adult premise, but when the script’s most interesting elements are sidelined for kiddie goofiness, we’re left to wonder who’s the film real audience. I suspect that some of the film’s disappointment comes from adapting a French film to an American context (with a very different take on the issue of, well, slavery), and not necessarily knowing how to play those elements. At least we do get to have Pryor and Jackie Gleason go head-to-head in comic scenes. Still, The Toy feels like a disappointment, disjointed and not quite able to use everything at its disposal for a coherent result.

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Brewster’s Millions</strong> (1985)

(On TV, February 2018) Back when I grew up, my TV universe was limited to about half a dozen channels, most of which I couldn’t understand very well due to my lack of familiarity with English. So my childhood culture pretty much depended on the whims of those three French TV networks, and it so happens that Brewster’s Millions was a favourite of theirs. I must have watched it two or three times before I was 15. I still remember bits and pieces of the film in French, which made a contemporary re-watch feel really weird (especially one line which doesn’t sound too bad in French, but whose original version is unprintable on a G-rated web site). Fortunately, Richard Pryor sounds much better than his assigned French dubbed voice, and revisiting Brewster’s Millions in English was more pleasant than I expected. The premise alone is still rich in possibilities: An inheritance game in which the protagonist must voluntarily blow through thirty million dollars in thirty days. It’s harder than it looks, though, and the film’s best moments are those in which sure-fired money-losing plans backfire, and make things even harder. Otherwise, Pryor clowns around with John Candy, flirts with the lovely Lonette McKee and indulges in a lavish series of fantasies by wasting as much money as possible. It’s not, frankly, that good a movie: it’s slight, doesn’t really touch upon challenging social issues the way some of Pryor’s work as a comedian did, and the entire plot is an exercise in contrived situations. Still, I had a good time revisiting Brewster’s Million, and it remains a mildly entertaining evening watch. It may be ripe for a remake, though…