Everybody loves "Car Wash". It is popular to say that everybody loves "Caddyshack" but only white guys love "Caddyshack", that's why it will eventually be recognized as The Greatest Motion Picture Of All Time. But everybody really loves "Car Wash" - white guys, white women, black guys, black women, Oriental guys, Oriental . . . well, that's enough of this "diversity" jazz for now, let's wrap it up before I let slip that I think the Ted Knight character is the Real Hero of "Caddyshack" and offend everybody.
When I first began working on this article I was startled that I couldn't find a single copy of "Car Wash" anywhere I looked - Not even at The Sudsy Cassette Car Wash And Video Rental! But that's probably because "Car Wash" is on cable so much that nobody has to rent it. Turn on your TV set right now and if you can't find "Car Wash" playing anywhere you'll probably be able to see it after whatever Steven Seagal movie is on finally ends. Why do they play "Car Wash" on cable so often? For the same reason they put two all-beef paddies, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun at McDonalds so often - People like it!
In one episode of "That Seventies Show," the main character, Eric, and another kid (who later turns out to be gay) are shown walking out of a movie theater going "Gee! Who woulda thought that working in a CAR WASH could be so fun?" That was exactly what it was like when I went to see "Car Wash" in 1976. Only the kid I saw it with didn't turn out to be gay. Sure hope that doesn't mean I'm the one that turned out to be gay! Being a coupla white kids, we went to see "Car Wash" because George Carlin, The Funniest Man In The World, was in it and walked out blown away that a bunch of black actors we had never heard of could be more fun to watch than The Former Funniest Man In The World. Would that have happened if Rodney Dangerfield had been in "Car Wash" instead of "Caddyshack"? No way!
It doesn't help George Carlin's cause that, not only is Richard Pryor in this movie, but "Car Wash" is one of the very few movies where Pryor can be bothered to be truly genuinely funny rather than just skitter around looking scared and nervous all the time. And, almost as good as that - no Gene Wilder! Boy, you'd look all scared and nervous all the time too if Gene Wilder was always following you around. "Maybe if I set fire to my ass he'll leave me alone?" No wonder Gilda Radner died of cancer. But "Car Wash" is so good to Pryor he gets to be in it with The Pointer Sisters! You think he would have needed to snort up all that coke if he could have had The Pointer Sisters with him in every movie? That would have been great but Gene Wilder arranged for them to have a big hit with that stupid Bruce Springsteen song so they'd be too busy touring to save Pryor from making that movie where he got locked up in prison with Gene Wilder. Boy, how is that for a nightmare? Originally it was supposed to be a combination Richard Pryor Comedy and "Women Behind Bars" sexploitation thing with The Pointer Sisters but, noooo . . .
Pryor is only in "Car Wash" for one brief scene but it is strong testimony to the film's quality that his appearance doesn't stick out as some kind of Special Celebrity Guest Appearance like Groucho Marx's big production number as General Sherman in "Gone With The Wind." Before and after his scene, "Car Wash" achieves such a high level of hilarity that Pryor clearly had to go in full throttle to protect his title as King Of The Funny Black Guys. Let's put Eddie Murphy and Martin Laurence in the Time Machine and watch them get cast as "Man Sitting In Coffee Shop" and "2nd Man On Bus".
There are so many talented people in "Car Wash" - Franklyn Ajaye, Antonio Fargas, Ivan Dixon, Garrett Morris, to name just a few - that Acid Logic would have to do a dozen Interesting Motherfuckers columns to do them justice. (Yes, once again the White Man finds a reason to deny the Black Man justice! I can't help it - I'm EVIL!!)
"Car Wash" was directed by Michael Schultz, the only black director in Hollywood for many years. That was very confusing for a lot of show biz liberals; every time he yelled "ACTION!!" they'd jump on a bus and go to Mississippi to march around singing "We Shall Overcome." Schultz got his start at Princeton where he directed a production of "Waiting For Godot" which was kind of like "Car Wash" only the cars never showed up to be washed. Before "Car Wash" Schultz directed "Cooley High" (Good movie) and "Honey Baby, Honey Baby" (Good movie, Good movie). After "Car Wash" Schultz directed "Which Way Is Up?" (Good movie) and "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" (Good album, Horrible movie). Poor Michael Schultz! Stuck making "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with those white faggots Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees while somebody else got to make "Bingo Long's Traveling All Stars" with Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor! They could at least have let him make "Bingo Long's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or "Sergeant Pepper's Traveling All Stars". Damn! But it's cool - Schultz is now one of the top directors in television, having worked on series like "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal". "Ally McBeal"!?! Remember that episode where Calista Flockhart made out with a guy in a CAR WASH!?! How did she keep from getting washed down the drain? Musta been wearing a watch.
"Car Wash" was written by Joel Schumacher who is now one of the top directors in Hollywood. Oh! Wait a minute, I forgot all about that buddy comedy he made last year with Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock. Let's start over . . . "Car Wash" was written by Joel Schumacher who used to be one of the top directors in Hollywood. But I kid Joel Schumacher, if he could become a big shot after directing something like "St. Elmo's Fire" not even a credit on a Chris Rock movie can hold him down. Before Schumacher broke into the movie biz he was a notorious Party Boy at Studio 54 where he would tell people he was going to be a movie director when he grew up and everybody would laugh in his face. This was the Seventies when wanting to be a movie director was a lofty ambition. After Spike Lee and Kevin Smith, wanting to direct is about as ambitious today as toilet training. Two years after "Car Wash" Schumacher wrote the script for "The Wiz", an all black version of "The Wizard Of Oz" with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow. Jesus! And I thought I was scared when the big kids told me about "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things"! Did Schumacher write the script for "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"? Oh, the phone's ringing . . .
"This is Joel Schumacher! No, I did not write the script for the 'Sergeant Pepper' movie! No! I absolutely did not! No way!"
"How did you know I was wondering about that?"
"My 'Did Joel Schumacher write the script for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?' radar went off!"
"You're psychic? Wow!"
"Yeah, I - Uh oh! I gotta go! My 'Was a Chris Rock - Anthony Hopkins buddy comedy Joel Schumacher's idea?' radar just went off!"
As Film Historian Joe Adamson wrote of the Marx Brother's "Horsefeathers", "A movie that isn't going anywhere looks mighty silly by the time it gets there". But "Car Wash", unlike most movies that forego a conventional story in favor of a random series of silly incidents, provides the viewer with an emotionally satisfying ending rather than the "intriguing" beginning, "amusing" middle, and "Well, what the hell was THAT all about?" conclusion these things usually leave us walking out with. "Car Wash's" plot may not go anywhere but it's theme, setting, and characters are so strong that once it gets going it goes and goes and by the end it's gone for good and how are you going to return it the video shop then? No wonder I can't find it anywhere! "A Day At The Car Wash" isn't exactly the most electrifying idea for a motion picture, yet "Car Wash" captivates in ways that movies about the Great Struggles Of History and the Intrigues Of The High And Mighty (You know, "Saving Private Ryan", "Gladiator", and "Braveheart" - It's unbelievable the lengths people will go to reach the level of brilliance "Car Wash" established more than a quarter of a century ago) can only aspire to.
It's the attitude "Car Wash" takes towards its subject that makes all the difference. Let's face it, nobody wants to work at a Car Wash and the people in this movie have problems that anybody with enough money to buy a computer and sit around reading about movies on the internet will ever have to worry about. (Although anybody dumb enough to sit around writing about movies on the Internet is pretty damn close.) But if there has ever been a movie any sunnier than "Car Wash" you wouldn't be able to look at the screen for more than a few seconds without going blind. If there are any Hollywood Big Shots as happy and carefree as the guys in "Car Wash" it's only until their next meeting with their tax lawyer or the private detective they hired to follow around their wife. What's their secret? Schultz and Schumacher (Sounds like the place you go to get a cheap suit for a funeral) clue us in through "Car Wash's" Odd Man Out, Duane - played by Bill Dukes.
Duane is an angry young black man about ten years before Rap came along to give angry young black men something fun to do so the kid has to resort to radical left wing politics to give him hope for the future - Poor bastard! But you can't help but like the guy cause it's so obvious he's just a well intentioned mixed up kid with a heart of gold - I bet Chuck D. and Flava Flav think he's a pussy. If it wasn't for the tension Duane brings to "Car Wash" the movie would be as limp an affair as "Night Of he Living Dead" without the pain in the ass white guy hiding out in the cellar. Duane's problem is that he hasn't wised up to the fact that everything he needs is right there all around him - Every morning he gets to go to the Car Wash and spend the day with a bunch of nice happy, funny guys and in time become a nice happy funny guy himself. Is this not what life is all about?
We never get to see Duane come to this realization but it's pretty clear that he will. After Duane gets fired from the Car Wash (You'll have to rent "Ghostbusters" for the scene where the 'busters see that Sigourney Weaver has been turned into a Devil Dog to see a sadder bunch of guys in a movie. Is Ernie Hudson in "Car Wash"?), the Wise Old Leader of the Car Wash Guys is all alone in the Car Wash office counting the day's take when - All Of A Sudden! - Duane busts in with a gun to rob duh place! A Good Boy Gone Bad! "Boy"? Sorry! In a scene so moving the only way to describe it in writing is "Just rent it awready!" the Old Guy appeals to Duane to put the gun down and forget about stealing the cash. He knows Duane is hurting just the same way everybody is hurting, but he and the guys will do everything they can to help Duane out if he'll just forget about holding the place up. Duane breaks down - Stop giggling, Flava Flav! - Schultz cuts to the outside of the Car Wash, and that - After all the clowning and cutting up - is how the movie ends. Not a dry eye in the house, yet we're still grinning like maniacs from all that crazy comedy - Has any film ever captured the emotional complexity of life so succinctly? "Succinctly"? Aw, stop telling me how to talk!
How did this movie ever happen? Did Schultz put himself through Princeton by working at a Car Wash? Maybe that Little Lord Fauntleroy routine Schumacher was putting on all over Studio 54 was just an act - Maybe he was just a poor shoe-maker's son who was paying for those swinging disco threads by working at a Car Wash in Queens? Well, the phone isn't ringing so I guess Joel Schumacher doesn't have any "Working at a Car Wash in Queens" radar which means that it's not true, right? Uh oh, someone's knocking at the door . . .
"Mistuh Schumakuh sent us. We're here tuh take youse for a drive."
"Oh, let me get my wallet."
"Don't bothuh. We'll only take it outta yuh pants before we trow yuh intuh duh dumpstuh."
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org