Blu-ray Review: Car Wash

Car Wash often gets lumped into the Blaxploitation era, but this is a movie that is about a diverse group of people punching the clock at a job. The film is as diverse in the key creative roles as the screen talent. Director Michael Schultz had just scored as massive hit with Cooley High. While critics of the era claim that it was just white guys ripping off black theatergoers, Schultz’s black. Screenwriter Joel Schumacher is the guy who put nipples on Batman and Robin. The cast reflects the sort of folks you’d find in downtown Los Angeles eager to make your car shine before it gets covered in smog on the Freeway. Car Wash has the comedy and drama you’d expect hanging out all day scrubbing away.

The movie starts as people show up at the car wash. Among those putting on the bright orange jump suits is Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) as a cop who ran into trouble and now has to keep his job to stay on the good side of his parole officer. He also tries his hardest to get Bill Duke (Predator) to tone down his radical beliefs and understand he’s an employee. Garrett Morris (Two Broke Girls) is a bit of a hustler. He brings his Saturday Night Live chops and delivers on a rather small role. Franklyn Ajaye (Stir Crazy) is hilarious as the lover boy eager to hook up with a waitress working nearby. Melanie Mayron (thirtysomething) is the cashier who is having a not-so-torrid affair with the owner. Richard Brestoff is the owner’s son who gets high and wants to toil with the workers to prove he’s a real commie. Even Otis Day is scrubbing cars before Animal House. The big scene stealer is Antonio Fargas (Starsky and Hutch) as an openly gay employee who won’t tone down his look. His character is defiant and proud in an era where so many were in the closet. Fargas pulls off everything off with a level of panache rarely encountered in the era. He’s flamboyantly true to himself.

The film has little moments happening during the day as customers drive up for a suds bath. An early scene has George Carlin (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) get stiffed by a woman who jumps fare and hides in the car wash’s lady’s room. He pops up periodically looking for her. But she’s changing her look in the sink. Professor Irwin Corey is a suspect lurking on the grounds. Lorraine Gary is the snobby Beverly Hills woman forced to slum it because he son just puked in her expensive car. The big moment is when Richard Pryor rolls in with his huge limo. He’s a preacher for profit eager to get back whatever he spends. The Pointer Sisters are his sisters of mercy that tempt men into believing his Holy words. The end of the film features DJ J.J. Jackson summing up the film on the radio which is so cool. Jackson would go on to be one of the original VJs on MTV. While not a true person, Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” song keeps popping up and keeps everyone hopping.

While the movie plays things for laughs, there’s a few dramatic thoughts which is probably why Car Wash won two awards at Cannes 1977. A pesky kid tells the owner that he’s too cheap to go fully automated. The kid doesn’t see the big picture that the machines would replace all the people working on the car wash. Where would they go to work? And what prevents those future jobs from being replaced or shipped overseas? This is the nature of the work world today where so many workers have lost their jobs because a machine can do it cheaper although not necessarily better. Ultimately Car Wash celebrates the people who make up a work place.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the details in the car wash. They shot at a real location so you can to feel downtown Los Angeles on the screen. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Even in mono, the refined sound elevates songs. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary
with director Michael Schultz has him remember that it was a fun film to make. This was Schultz’s first movie although he almost passed because the script was just funny scenes. He wanted a serious narrative that could mix comedy and drama. He quietly worked it into the film. He speaks of begging Ivan Dixon to return to acting after he’d become a movie and TV director. He speaks of how many of the actors came from his time in New York theater. The only movie set was the locker room that was built near the car wash. Schultz’s wife played the woman ducking George Carlin. He mentions how actor Clarence Muse had appeared in The Jazz Singer and was thrilled to be starring in a Hollywood studio film that had a black director.

Workin’ at the Car Wash with Otis Day (12:13) has the actor talk about how he became a musical superstar after singing “Shout” in National Lampoon’s Animal House. He talks about working on a set that was a car wash in downtown Los Angeles. He enjoyed being with the cast. He was already pals with Franklyn Ajaye. He has a part in the recent Shout Select release of Where the Buffalo Roam.

Car wash From Start to Finish with Gary Stromberg (34:22) lets the producer tell how a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll got him into cinema. He got into the business doing publicity for Ray Charles. His first real clients when he went out on his own was The Doors, Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf. Eventually he got into movies. He had the silly idea of the day in the life of a car wash after seeing Nashville.

Radio Spots (2:59) is what you could have heard while sitting in your Pacer while going through your local car wash. They promote the film is a typical day in the car wash.

Trailer (2:21) sells the workplace fun when you drop by the car wash.

Shout! Factory presents Car Wash. Directed by: Michael Schultz. Screenplay by: Joel Schumacher. Starring: Franklyn Ajaye, Bill Duke, George Carlin, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Clarence Muse, The Pointer Sisters & Richard Pryor. Running Time: 97 minutes. Rated: PG. Released: June 20, 2017.

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