Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) ***

PG, 110 min.
Director: John Badham
Writers: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, William Brashler (novel)
Starring: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Rico Dawson, ‘Birmingham’ Sam Brison, Jophery Brown, Leon Wagner, Tony Burton, John McCurry, Stan Shaw, DeWayne Jessie, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Sam Laws, Alvin Childress, Ken Foree, Carl Gordon

Richard Pryor was born December 1, 1940. He died December 10, 2005. He has the reputation of revolutionizing the stand up world by breaking race barriers and turning several of his later stand up concerts into successful feature films in which he opens up to his audience in extremely personal terms, speaking frankly about his drug abuse and many other personal problems. What is often ignored is his film acting career. His collaborations with Gene Wilder in several films is often praised, and he had several successful films, including the hit “The Toy”, but his acting is never much talked about.

In 1976, he played a supporting role in the baseball movie about the Negro Baseball League, which shows what a talent the man really was. The movie stars Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones as a couple of Negro League players who break off to form a team of their own due to abuses placed on the players by the owners. Pryor plays the Right Fielder, who plans on playing major league ball by pretending to be a Cuban. Pryor’s accents are great and he brings his own freshness to the film, which has a unique energy throughout.

Once Pryor started pulling in leading roles, he seemed to get stuck into his own kind of shtick, which while funny, restricted him from exploring much of the ability he had to offer a role. It seems in supporting roles, like this one, he’s more relaxed and freer to really explore the character he’s developed. Here he spends most of his time explaining how he can get into “white” ball playing by pretending not to be black. He also has a recurring gag where he tries to explain baseball statistics to a younger player.

Audiences really missed the boat by not getting to know Pryor as an actor more than a comedian. He tried his hand at a couple of more dramatic roles in films like “Some Kind of Hero” and “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling”; but I don’t think audiences ever really gave him a shot to be anything other than the jittering comedian he was on stage. Comedians have long shown a great ability to adapt to more dramatic roles because much of their comedy is based on their own personal pain in life. Pryor was a great comedian. It’s always nice to find him in films where you don’t expect him. “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” is one of those films. 

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