The Richard Pryor Collection

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The Richard Pryor Collection

Directors: Various
Writers: Tonino Guerra, Thanassis Valtinos
Studio information: Universal

A mixed bag of the late comic’s screen work

While his scorching stand-up routines established Richard Pryor as one of the most brilliant social satirists of the late 20th century,

his work in film often found him adrift with middling scripts and mediocre directors. As with so many singular talents, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with him. This ultra-bare-bones (if value-priced) repackaging of four somewhat forgotten films onto one disc is a case study of Pryor’s travails in Hollywood. While Car Wash (1976) retains much of the quirky charm that made it a hit, it’s an ensemble film and features only a cameo by Pryor as the slick preacher of the almighty dollar, Daddy Rich.

He followed up a year later (again with director Michael Schultz) with Which Way Is Up?, a blundering adaptation of Lina Wertmuller’s The Seduction of Mimi. The film is mainly noteworthy in that, by playing multiple roles, Pryor was able to stretch out with characterizations he previously only used onstage, as when he evokes his classic stand-up Mudbone character. Bustin’ Loose (1981) finds him delivering a more thoughtful performance than usual (inspired, perhaps, by his pairing with Cicely Tyson). Most unremarkable is the bland Brewster’s Millions (1985), a buddy vehicle with John Candy in which Pryor mugs mercilessly, without grace and with his unpredictable edge noticeably dulled. Thankfully, Pryor’s unfailing energy helps keep all four films from falling completely flat, so the collection is a bargain, despite the lack of any supplementary material. But to see him truly shine, visit one of his many great concert films.

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