Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1967-1970)

[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]

The Busy Body (1967) 

Sid Caesar has the dire assignment of tracking down a dead body missing from its grave to recover mob loot sewn into the burial outfit. 

Robert Ryan, as the mob boss, will murder Caesar unless the money is found.

Pryor plays a police detective who becomes suspicious of Caesar's odd doings at a funeral home.

Pryor has a few questions for Caesar's mother (played by Kay Medford).

Wild in the Streets (1968)

Christopher Jones stars as a rock star who is elected president and promptly turns the government into a trippy dictatorship.  Pryor is a member of Jones' band.

Barry Shear, a television director whose resume included numerous episodes of The Donna Reed Show and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., made his feature film debut with Wild in the Streets.

Adrienne Barbeau worked with Shear on a 1978 television movie called Crash.  She offered her opinion of Shear's style of directing during an interview with the "Terror Trap" website.

Barbeau: What sticks with me most [about Crash] is that the director was a screamer.  I mean, this man just screamed and his language was horrible.  It sort of took me by surprise.  Barry Shear, I believe was his name. . .

Terror Trap: Right, Barry Shear. . .

Barbeau:  I liked him but I had never worked with anyone who screamed at people and used expletives so it was a bit of a shock.

Terror Trap: Was that helpful?

Barbeau: Not to me. I also remember acting with Sharon Gless and we were working nights and it was cold.  We were wet and it was messy.  That's all I remember.

Barry Shear said of Wild in the Streets:
I'll give AIP two things: they gave me the opportunity to direct my first feature and they told me all the tricks I needed to know before signing the contract for my next picture. And that's all I'll give give 'em.

The way the picture turned out it seems anti-youth, which was not what either Bob Thom, the writer, or I had in mind. The theme of the picture is that no matter who takes power, young or old, the way Chris did, the result is a dictatorship and that the less experience and less education the leader has the more trouble we're in.

I can't begin to tell you all the things that were changed after I left. For example, the picture was supposed to end with Shelley Winters (Jones' smother-loving mother), her bleeding hand impaled on the barbed wire fence of the over-30s concentration camp, singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." There's supposed to be a freeze-frame of her and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir goes on singing for her.

But the reaction to the picture has been absolutely fantastic. I went to see it at least 10 times. Every audience was entirely different. Where one crowd would roar another would gasp and vice versa.

Pryor plays a small role in the film, but he stands out whenever he appears on screen. 

The comedian has a brief exchange with veteran character actor Ed Begley (He would later work with Begley's son, Ed Begley Jr., in Blue Collar).

Mostly, though, he just hangs around as part of Jones' entourage.

Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals (1969) 
(never completed)

Carter's Army (1970)

The Phynx (1970)


"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.

Reference sources

"Barry Shear: TV, Film's Lively One," Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1969, p. 78.

"Terror and the Dame: An Interview with Actress Adrienne Barbeau," Terror Trap, February, 2006.  http://www.terrortrap.com/interviews/adriennebarbeau/.

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