During the early ’70s, there was a boom in films starring African-American actors with quite a few directed or written by African-American talent. This normally tagged as Blaxsplotation era or Soul Cinema. This was when Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and Richard Pryor became marquee names on theaters around the country. For various reasons, the studios decided the trend was over and focused on movies about giant animals eating white people. Most of the top billed actors either went to Europe or got minor roles in big budget films. It was a rough time for people who had built up a popcorn loving audience. There was one major exception: Richard Pryor. Even though the stand up comic appeared in numerous films from Lady Sings the Blues, The Mack, Uptown Saturday Night and Car Wash, Pryor was a supporting character. Things weren’t looking good for Richard when Fox refused to let him star as Black Bart in Blazing Saddles after he wrote the script with Mel Brooks. But then Pryor was cast in a small part in Silver Streak with Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) that grew during the production until he and Wilders became an on screen duo. The box office returns convinced a lot of studio executives that Pryor worthy of being a movie star. And for the next decade, Richard Pryor was always on a movie marquee. In 1985 Pryor teamed up with director Walter Hill (48 Hours) and SCTV‘s John Candy to revive Brewster’s Millions.
Monty Brewster (Pryor) is about to hit career rock bottom when after nearly two decades as a pitcher, the end of the line appears to have arrived. He’s still got a bit of magic in his arm as he pulls out a save on the mound for the Hackensack Bulls. But when he gets into a little trouble at a local bar, the team decides to cut him instead of posting bail. He’s not alone in being unemployed since his trusty catcher Spike Nolan (Uncle Buck‘s John Candy) also gets tossed off the team. But at this moment where they can question their future, the future comes for them. He’s bailed out by a man who takes them to New York City. Brewster thinks the New York Yankees want him since he did get a cup of coffee with the Chicago Cubs before he bounced around in the majors. But he’s not going to wear pinstripes anytime soon. Instead Brewster discovers his unbeknownst to him great-uncle Rupert Horn (Cocoon‘s Hume Cronyn) has died and Brewster is the only relative in line to inherit the $300 million fortune. But Horn decided to have fun with the will. In order to get the whole $300 million, Brewster has to spend $30 million in 30 days on things that can’t make money. So he can’t just buy a house or other smart investments. If Brewster isn’t up for the outrageous spending spree, he could just get a cool million in case. But Brewster is a gambling man as seen by his approach to relief pitching. He takes the challenge and brings along Spike to help him burn a fortune in a time before you could invest in Uber. The big thing is that he’s not allowed to let anyone outside of the law firm controlling the estate to know about the will. As far as the world is concerned, Brewster inherited $30 million and he’s spending it irresponsibly like a lottery winner on a bender.
Brewster’s Millions allows Richard Pryor a chance to go all out in his schtick. He gets to poke fun at greedy lawyers including David White (best known for playing Larry Tate on Bewitched). He gets to deal with a probing press that is always questioning the spending habits of the Rich and Famous. Having Walter Hill as the director seems an unusual choice since he’d just done Streets of Fire. But unlike certain action directors who can’t grasp comedy, Hill seems happy to just let Pryor and Candy handle the funny when they are on screen. He’s not out to make a Walter Hill movie so much as a Richard Pryor film. And from interviews with Hill, he was looking to have a hit and make millions from Brewster’s Millions. He made sure we didn’t end up with what happened when the unfunny John G. Avildsen (Rocky) wouldn’t just let John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd control the comedy in Neighbors in 1981. This may have been the seventh version of Brewster’s Millions (the original was 1914 by Cecil B. DeMille), but Pryor and Candy made things feel fresh. The idea of a rich guy running an unorthodox campaign for office that includes blowing off manners and claiming to not take campaign donations has become our new normal this presidential primary season. The film has a fine supporting cast including Lonette McKee (The Cotton Club), Jerry Orbach (Dirty Dancing), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon in Batman movie), Tovah Feldshuh (Silver Bullet), Rick Moranis (Strange Brew) and Yakov Smirnoff. Nobody steals the show from Pryor and Candy. Orbach does get in a few choice quips as Brewster’s baseball manager. Brewster’s Millions doesn’t run out of laughs as Pryor keeps burning money.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the ’80s fashion touches of the times in the high resolution. The audio is DTS-HD MA Stereo. The mix gets the crack of the bat from the ball park not overwhelming Ry Cooder’s score. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary With Film Critics William Bibbiani And Witney Seibold, Hosts Of The Podcast Critically Acclaimed is fun since they both enjoy the film and make a promise to listeners that might not be legit. They did out great trivia about locations and actors.
Interview With Screenwriter Herschel Weingrod (10:59) touches on how he and his writing partner Timothy Harris came upon the project. Universal wanted it to be about Bill Murray as a washed up astronaut selling jeans on the sidewalk. Walter Hill wanted Richard Pryor so they changed the script again. He says Pryor insisted that race not be an issue in the film.
Brewster’s Millions (78:52) is the 1945 adaptation with Dennis O’Keefe and Helen Walker. Monty Brewster comes back from fighting in World War II to find out he’s inherited a fortune with a catch. He only has to spend a million in this version since that was a lot of money back then. The real star of this version is Eddie Anderson, best known as Rochester on The Jack Benny Show. Strange to see him not working with Jack. There’s also Neil Hamilton, the Commissioner Gordon from the Batman TV series.
Theatrical Trailer (1:28) focuses on how Monty needs to spend money to inherit money.
Still Gallery (7:11) has the press photos and behind the scenes shots that include Pryor and Candy holding giant bats.
Shout! Factory presents Brewster’s Millions: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Walter Hill. Screenplay by: Herschel Weingrod & Timothy Harris. Starring: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Lonette McKee and Yakov Smirnoff. Rated: PG Rated. Running Time: 101 minutes. Released: January 14, 2020.
Tags: Brewster's Millions, John Candy, Richard Pryor, Shout! Factory