disliked Car Wash upon seeing it for
the first time On Demand several years ago and didn’t even make it all the way
through. Having grown up listening to Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the early
1980’s I had always wanted to see this film that showcased both of their
talents but could never seem to find it on television or on VHS in any of the
independent video stores that I frequented. The former West Coast Videos and
Blockbuster Videos were of no help either. Given the opportunity to see it On
Demand, I must have been in a different mindset as something about the film
must have rubbed me the wrong way, but a new viewing of it has changed my mind
Car Wash, which opened in theatres in New York City
on Friday, October 15, 1976 (remember the 8th Street Playhouse?), is
a delightfully funny slice of Los Angeles 1970’s craziness that looks at the
lives of a sizeable group of men who wash cars by hand for a meek owner, Mr.
B., played by the late great character actor Sully Boyer, the bank manager from
Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Mr. B. can’t
afford to install the automatic, machine-run equipment necessary to wash cars
more efficiently at the Dee-Luxe Car Wash (even a young boy sees through his
claim to have his workers do the washing by hand to give it that “personal
touch”) while, unbelievably, carrying on an extra-marital affair with Marsha,
the cute girl at the cash register (Melanie Mayron, who looks like she could be
the sister of adult film performer Sunny Lane). The main characters are the
washers themselves and we are introduced to them as they change in the locker
room and talk about the lives that they really want to be leading. One wants to
be a superhero, another two are a fairly good singing duo, and the angriest of
the lot calls himself Abdullah (Bill Duke) and wants to be anywhere but there
as he’s tired of the shenanigans. Lindy (Antonio Fargas of Starsky and Hutch) is a drag queen with a good heart and has some
of the best lines in this Joel Schumacher-scripted film.
the action progresses, we meet several clients who want only tip-top service.
Lorraine Gary from Jaws portrays an
inspired bit of Beverly Hills middle-age housewife hysteria who is in a hurry as
she speeds through the LA streets talking on a mobile car phone(!) with a young
son who can’t stop vomiting for reasons never explained. Kenny (Tim Thomerson)
catches Marsha’s eye and suavely hands her his business card. Another involves
a man recovering from a prostate operation and a bottle of urine that parodies
the ape throwing the bone into the sky in 2001:
A Space Odyssey. One of the stand-outs is Richard Pryor as Daddy Rich, a goofy
preacher who travels in luxury with an entourage that includes The Pointer
Sisters and spouts enough verbal puns to illustrate that not much has changed
between the days of snake oil salesmen and those “doing God’s work” while being
called out by Abdullah. His reaction after getting out of the limo (look fast
for the sophomoric TITHE on the license plate) for the first time when he gets
a look at Lindy is hilarious and priceless. The car wash even has Daddy Rich’s
photo mounted on a wall next to JFK and MLK. George Carlin also appears as a
loquacious taxi driver who boasts to a hooker/passenger (Lauren Jones) how much
he trusts people just as she quietly bolts from his cab without paying her
fare. He spends the rest of the film looking for her while she hangs around
right under his nose, completely unrecognizable in a different outfit. The
film’s episodic nature recalls Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking.
not all fun and games as the script takes an unexpected turn into serious
territory where it deals with Caucasian and African-American relations. One of
the washers is himself an ex-convict doing his best to stay on the straight and
narrow and provide for his children who greet him at work in a sweet and tender
scene. Later, he is nearly killed when a fired employee tries to rob the cash
register after hours. The incident is completely unexpected and deeply poignant
as the former promises to help the latter out of his situation as the would-be
robber emotionally breaks down.
of the scenes would probably not be scripted like this had the film been made
today, and as of early 2016 there was a rumor that the film was being
considered for a remake. In 2001 a film called The Wash (not to be confused with the 1988 film of the same name) was
released and was directed by DJ Pooh and starred Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg that
took place at a car wash.
The film’s musical score is almost another character in the film and it permeates the soundtrack in an American Graffiti sort of way. Composed by Norman Whitfield and performed by Rose Royce, the music is a delight and is available on a 2-disc LP soundtrack album, which also contains Richard Pryor’s dialog, and has a total of 19 tracks.
Car Wash was released at a time when you actually got something for your admission to the movie theatre. When it opened in New York, one of the theatres promoted meeting five members of the cast, in addition to receiving either the 2-disc LP soundtrack, a t-shirt, or poster. However, change is inevitable and the car wash where the movie was filmed is, just like the four theatres it played in New York, now just a memory, and replaced by Subway and 7-Eleven, although the Rampart Apartments and the Big “6” Market are still across the street today.
The new Shout! Factory Blu-ray of Car Wash is a revelation and bests all previous home video incarnations. It boasts a sparkling, hand-waxed (couldn’t resist) film transfer as well as some nice extras. First up is a new, roughly 35-minute long on-camera interview with film producer Gary Strombergwho tells a very interesting story about his background and how he got the idea to make the film in the same vein as Robert Altman’s Nashville from 1975. He lost his company as a result of his involvement with drugs and partying, but he managed to make a comeback thankfully. Otis Young, who also appears in the film, speaks about his involvement in a 12-minute onscreen interview.
There is also a feature-length audio commentary by film director Michael Schultz who gives a wonderfully insightful look into the making of the film, and how Universal was very leery of the black/white racial tensions in the film. He also details how Antonio Fargas’s character, Lindy, was very controversial at the time and when the film made its way to television his character was trimmed down significantly and alternate scenes with Danny DeVito cut from the theatrical release were substituted. Brooke Adams also appeared in the film, however her scenes were cut due to concerns over the running time. Unfortunately, those scenes are not available anywhere on the Blu-ray. I don’t know if Shout! Factory attempted to locate these scenes or not. It would have been nice to have had the television version included on the other layer just to compare it to the theatrical cut.
If the dialogue at times sounds unnatural, it’s a result of looping nearly 80% of it in post production due to the on-set production sound being ruined by noise and traffic while shooting on location, as explained by director Schultz. Universal Pictures, on the heels of the success of Jaws from the previous summer and having passed on Star Wars, interestingly elected to release the film closer to Halloween. This would have been an ideal summer movie, especially for the drive-in circuit and despite it being a huge hit for the year (it cost $2M and grossed $20M), it might have even made more money during the summer months. Perhaps the studio had little faith in it.
Despite the lack of the television version/scenes, all in all, this is an excellent package for a truly enjoyable film. Shout! Factory scores once again with this excellent Blu-ray release.