Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1974-1976)

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

Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

Pryor appears in the film as a jumpy private investigator, Sharp Eye Washington.

In a distinct role reversal, Bill Cosby mostly acted as straight man to a silly and panicky Sidney Poitier.

Harry Belafonte was a scene-stealer in the role of a greedy, hot-tempered mob boss, Geechie Dan Beauford.

Cosby insisted, "[T]his is not a black film made by blacks for black audiences. We are Americans, and we made the picture to be seen and enjoyed by Americans."

Warner Bros. has plans to remake Uptown Saturday Night with Kevin Hart in the Poitier role.

 Adiós Amigo (1976)

Pryor was inspired by his boyhood hero Lash LaRue in playing his Adiós Amigo character.

Lash LaRue
Pryor on the run in Adiós Amigo.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)

Pryor's character, Charlie Snow, shows up at the end of the film with a new Mohawk hairstyle and dressed in tanned buckskin.  He explains to his friends his idea to bypass a prohibition against black players in the major leagues by pretending to be a Native American named Chief Takahoma.  The scene gets a laugh because the audience knows Snow's blatant disguise could never fool the major league officials into thinking the ballplayer is a genuine Native American.  But I learned from reading Hal Erickson's book on baseball films, The Baseball Filmography, 1915 through 2001, that Pryor's "Chief Takahoma" ruse was actually employed by a baseball manager 75 years earlier.  This comes from the History website:
[I]n 1901, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports the signing of a mysterious player named "Chief Tokohama" to baseball’s Baltimore Orioles by manager John McGraw.  Chief Tokohama was later revealed to be Charlie Grant, an African-American second baseman. McGraw was attempting to draw upon the great untapped resource of African-American baseball talent in the face of baseball’s unspoken rule banning black players from the major leagues. . . Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey discovered [the player's] real identity and led the charge to ban him from the league.  Grant ended up spending the 1901 season playing stand-out second base for the all-black Columbia Giants.

James Earl Jones believes he was cast for the role of Leon Carter based mostly on his appearance.  He said, "I'm 6-foot-1, so when I'm in shape, I qualify for a lot of athletic looking parts."

Bingo Long started a trend for Jones.  The actor was later featured in other baseball films, including Field of Dreams (1989) and The Sandlot (1993), and he played a former baseball player for three years in the acclaimed Broadway play "Fences." But the actor was always quick to admit that he was never a baseball fan. He said, "I love the idea of baseball, the feeling of baseball, but I don't follow the game or have a favorite team."  He explained in another interview, "My grandfather was a big fan of Satchel Paige, but the pace of baseball when I listened to it on the radio as a kid was too slow for me."

Jones studied baseball to look good on the field in Bingo Long.  He said:
I learned that baseball is about Zen. You can't hit the ball, even by accident, unless you see it.  That to me is Zen.  In order to achieve something, you don't strive at it, but you become the ball and bat.  I think a guy like Bo Jackson [home run hitter with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox] can do that instinctively.

The film focused on a deep and abiding friendship  between Jones and Billy Dee Williams.

But, though not the focus of the film, Pryor was spotlighted in a number of scenes.

Car Wash (1976)

Silver Streak (1976)

Silver Streak was released in Germany as Trans Amerika Express.

A comic thriller is not good without a believable villain.  McGoohan, with his darkly menacing glares, made murderous art forger Devereau one of the vilest villains in film comedy history.

It made viewers root even harder for the film's heroes, Jill Clayburgh, Gene Wilder and Pryor.

The one character that did not survive McGoohan's villainy was the titular character, Silver Streak.

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

Reference sources

Thomas D. Elias, The Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), May 22, 1990, p. 19.

Millie Entrekin, "Diamonds on the Silver Screen," The Newark Advocate (Newark, Ohio), October 14, 1992, p. 21.

Bob Thomas, "Cosby Piqued by Criticism of Uptown Saturday Night," The Gettysburg Times, July 11, 1974, p. 8.

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