Which Way is Up? (1977) / The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) Mill Creek Double Feature Blu-ray Review
Mill Creek’s presentation of these films is more than adequate. Which Way is Up? is the funnier and stronger film of the pair, but it has some seriously outdated humor that some may find very upsetting. I was both shocked and amused by it.
Which Way is Up? Plot:
An orange farmer accidentally becomes the spokesman for a union uprising for farmworkers across the U.S.
Leroy (Richard Pryor) is a humble orange farmer with a wife who won’t give him the time of day, and he lives in a crowded house with a bunch of kids and his grouchy, horny father Rufus (also Pryor) who always has an edge of worldly complaint or wisdom for poor Leroy. One day while working with his fellow farmers, Leroy falls off his ladder, right in the center of a union uprising being covered by the media, and he accidentally becomes the first farmer to inadvertently “quit” his job over union concerns, although he honestly has no idea what the union is all about or how that will radically upend his life. The media takes his picture and all of a sudden he’s a local celebrity – for better and worse – and he becomes the most hated and targeted person around. He’s shuffled off to the big city by the union where his reputation precedes him, and he gets a job as a painter, but due to his extremely good luck (or maybe it’s horrible luck), he is promoted and soon becomes a manager at a factory where he begins making real money and can basically restart his life the way he wants it. Over the course of several years, he takes on another lover (played by Lonette McKee) and has a son, and he sets them up with a nice home, while he travels back and forth to his wife who now desires him and his wealth and status. But because Leroy is a scoundrel, he can’t keep his priorities straight, and he finds himself in a twisted relationship with a philandering preacher’s wife who makes him her sex slave and ultimately impregnates her, which will become the catalyst for Leroy’s complete undoing as a husband, lover, and man of status because he ruins everything with his scoundrel ways.
An uneven, but sometimes hilarious social commentary starring the inimitable Richard Pryor, Which Way is Up? could never be made “as is” today with its rampant rapey and creepy behavior of its lead character, but if you can get past all that, the movie has an unusual approach to getting you to root for its hero, despite all his faults. The women in the movie are all up to dealing with Pryor’s antics (which are something else, let me tell you), and Pryor himself has some absolutely standout gut busting moments in the movie. He was a real treasure of a comedian and as a performer, and this film from director Michael Schultz might not have aged as well as it could, but it’s best appreciated with some dashes of salt and pepper.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings Plot:
A black baseball team breaks away from the Negro League and goes it alone, while breaking all the rules and navigating 1930s racism and struggles.
Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) and Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) are two of the best baseball players in the Negro League in the 1930’s South, and when they’re both treated unfairly by their managers, they quit their teams and form a brand new team and manage themselves: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. They recruit some of the best black ballplayers in the South, including Charlie Snow (Richard Pryor) who aspires to join the white league as a fake Cuban someday, and Esquire Joe Callaway (Stan Shaw) who impresses everyone, including the Major Leagues. While on tour and playing other teams, the All-Stars get into all sorts of shenanigans, including being attacked by racists, having one of their two cars stolen (and their cash box), and facing all sorts of opposition from the Negro Leagues who do everything they can to stop them from succeeding.
From director John Badham, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings is a nicely shot and executed slice of yesteryear featuring a subject I know very little about, and thanks to solid portrayals from a great cast and a score by William Goldstein, the film is endearing enough to be consistently entertaining. While the baseball featured in the movie is a bit hodgepodge and fragmented, the gist of the game is there. It seems like the game as portrayed in the film isn’t really all that serious, but we get a sense that the meaning behind how the game is perceived and played by these characters is important, but because it’s a baseball movie I was expecting more focus on the dynamics of the sport, but instead the movie decides to center its attention on the politics, racism, and the characters the film is set around. It’s based on a book by William Brashler.
Mill Creek’s double feature Blu-ray of these two titles is presented in nice high definition transfers, but there are no special features.