There’s not many Richard Pryor films I hadn’t rented on VHS or managed to record from a TV broadcast. Such a brilliant comic and mighty fine actor. My whole pre-teens to my twenties the double act of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder never left my screens. I can drop into Stir Crazy at anytime and still be in fits of laughter. I’d even seen all the others like Brewster’s Millions with John Candy and that bizarre one called The Toy! There was great fun to be had with Critical Condition and Moving plus he could also turn in a superb dramatic performance alongside the best of them like with Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto in Blue Collar. One that had gone right under my radar was Which Way Is Up? Reading that he plays three different characters I just couldn’t wait to watch it.
Tagline – “Loose, vulgar, funky and very funny. Pryor gobbles up his triple part like a happy hog let loose in a garden.” (Newsweek Magazine)
Now being a child of Generation X, happily steamrolling my way through the controversial films of the 70s and 80s without the blink of an eye. Our generation were tough as nails. Brought up on video nasties and extreme macho action packed carnage. It was just the way it was. If you didn’t like it you just didn’t watch it again and moved on to the next barrage of barbaric form of entertainment. So as you can see I’m no stranger to head turning controversial subject matter but right from the get go Which Way Is Up? is a hard one to recommend in today’s times.
So if you’re ready for the ensuing dubious content coming at you, right out the gate, then here goes. You get attempted rape, stalking and another attempted rape. Followed by racism and homophobia. Violence and insults towards women including cheating on all levels. Uncountable amounts of the two double GG words of the N & F variety. Revenge cheating, bit of bondage and tool insertion hehe. Yep it’s a comedy and the list goes on and on but I’ll get chastised if I carry on!
Of course I soldiered on through with a wow, a giggle and a cheeky smile. I’m sensible enough to know it’s from an era when it just wasn’t that much of a big deal. And you guessed it I’ve seen a hell lot worse. It’s just there’s no way you could recommend a film like that in today’s climate. Saying that, it wasn’t one of his best if I’m honest. Richard Pryor’s character just wasn’t that likable in the confused story. But he does get to play three parts. So what was it all about?
Pryor plays Leroy Jones, a poor fruit picker who’s desperate to umm, empty his, umm fruit bag? He also plays his own randy old dad, who doesn’t suffer his dilemma. His Dad, Rufus, is forever getting his way with his younger wife. Then last of all the oversexed, forever cheating, Reverend Lennox Thomas. Leroy is stupid, a simpleton and a chancer. He ploughs on through life mainly falling into situations purely by accident or by his own idiotic ways. Somehow, without knowing, he reluctantly becomes the figure head and spokesmen for the union of striking workers. And in doing so he shines in some lucky way when he manages to win the love of the beautiful activist Vanetta (Lonette McKee). From then on I’m not really sure what was going on as it flipped between Leroy working for the man and getting caught up with a trio of ladies.
I’m glad to have ticked it off the Richard Pryor film list. He always makes me smile. Yeah it’s content maybe super controversy now and maybe raised a few eyebrows even back then but watching RP playing three different roles was a bonus. He’s always funny to watch and seeing him go through his routine was very enjoyable. I never had the chance to see The Richard Pryor Show from 1977 but I can imagine the skits would of featured many characters like he portrayed here. Which Way Is Up? feels more like a short sketch that got out of hand. Coming from the opening credits it is in fact a remake of a 1972 Italian film called The Seduction of Mimi.
Two supporting actresses Margaret Avery as Annie May, Leroy’s wife and Marilyn Coleman as Sister Sarah are both hilarious and both get to steal the show as women scorned. The Reverend’s platinum healing glove brings some giggles. Overall I enjoyed the event of watching a new Richard Pryor film and looking through his filmology there maybe one or two more I may of missed or can’t remember. Looking forward to seeing if that is true.
Do you have a favorite Richard Pryor film?
Now let’s dance our way out of here Soul Train stylee with the Stargard Which Way Is Up theme tune.