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CAR WASH(director: Michael Schultz; screenwriter: Joel Schumacher; cinematographer: Frank Stanley; editor: Christopher Holmes; music: Norman Whitfield; cast: Franklyn Ajaye (T.C.), Sully Boyar (Mr. B), Richard Brestoff (Irwin), Carmine Caridi (Foolish Father), George Carlin (Taxi Driver), Irwin Corey (Mad Bomber), Richard Brestoff (Irwin), Ivan Dixon (Lonnie), Bill Duke (Duane/Abdullah), Antonio Fargas (Lindy), Lauren Jones (Marlene the Hooker), Melanie May (Marsha), Richard Pryor (Daddy Rich), The Pointer Sisters (The Wilson Sisters), Tracy Reed (Mona), Clarence Muse (Snapper), DeWayne Jesse (Lloyd), Garrett Morris (Slide), Michael Fennell (Calvin, roller-skater), Jay Butler (AM Disc Jockey), Ray Vitte (Geronimo), James Spinks (Hippo), Pepe Serna (Chuco), Leon Pinkney (Justin), Jack Kehoe (Scruggs), Arthur French (Charlie), Lorraine Gary (Hysterical Lady/ Miss Beverly Hills), Leonard Jackson (Earl), Darrow Igus (Floyd), Ren Woods (Loretta); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Art Linson/Gary Stromberg; Universal Pictures; 1976)
“It was both a riot and surprisingly had something poignant to say about race relations.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Schultz (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”/”Greased Lightning”/”Cooley High”) directs this very enjoyable sharp-edged ethnic comedy, a slice of life film about the 1970s, that’s about a full-working day spent in a Los Angeles car wash. It was both a riot and surprisingly had something poignant to say about race relations. It has soul, energetic disco music, plenty of bounce, and terrific sight gags that mainly deal with class differences between the harried but almost sympathetic white boss (Sully Boyar), his jerky Mao spewing geeky college student son (Richard Brestoff) hopelessly trying to befriend the workers with his hipness, and the zany group of mostly African-American car wash workers at the Dee-Luxe garage (shot at the Figueroa Car Wash).

The plotless film is about getting through the day for the roughly 24 characters featured, from workers to customers to family to a young hotshot roller-skater. It opens early in the morning with the smooth talking radio DJ blasting out continuous soul music from station KGYS. To start the day, the close-knit group of car washers change into their orange jump suit uniforms in the locker and playfully sound each other out when not giving each other high fives or twirling around in some frantic dance and song routine. George Carlin has a cameo as a taxi driver that never worked out that funny, as he searches for a fare-beater; Irwin Corey’s cameo fares slightly better, as he’s mistaken by one of the car wash workers (Franklyn Ajaye) for the mad bomber in the newspapers when he exits the toilet with a pop bottle covered by foil—which turns out to be only a urine sample for his hospital visit; while Richard Pryor steals the film playing a flashy but phony money-grubbing and fast-talking white suit garbed preacher, the founder-head of the Church of Divine Economic Spirituality, arriving at the car wash with his chauffeur, gold stretch limo and his entourage—The Pointer Sisters.

Other characters of interest include the serious ex-con (Ivan Dixon) trying to make a real job out of it, Bill Duke as the troubled militant black activist, Antonio Fargas as the sassy cross-dresser homosexual, Lauren Jones as the forlorn hooker hanging around to drum up business and always changing wigs, and Melanie May as the distracted cashier and sometime lover of the boss who is hoping to go out on a real date with Prince Charming when he comes through the garage doors.

It’s shrewdly written by Joel Schumacher, and despite being a period piece has not really dated except for the obvious change in styles and attitudes. Though not all the comedy bits work—some seem forced; but most of the characters are likable and funny, and enough of its gritty humor sticks to your ribs and tickles your funny bones.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”