• Car Wash

    Released by: Shout! Select
    Released on: June 20, 2017
    Directed by: Michael Schultz
    Cast: George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Franklyn Ajaye, Sully Boyar, Richard Brestoff, Irwin Corey, Ivan Dixon, Bill Duke, Antonio Fargas, Lauren Jones, Michael Fennell, The Pointer Sisters, Brooke Adams, Danny DeVito, Lorraine Gary
    Year: 1976
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    The Movies:

    Within the span of a single day, the employees of an L.A. car wash experience a series of strange encounters with customers as well as handle their boss and various interpersonal relationships on the job.

    Originally intended as a musical, Car Wash is a plotless endeavor that moves breathlessly from one set piece to the next, thinking little of effective exposition. It might have worked had there been some central point—say, the car wash’s owners were going to close it down and the employees had to save the day. But there is no such impetus for the action that unfolds. That’s not to say that any of what unfolds is boring; there are enough musical sequences to break the action, though you should take the laughs when you can get them because they’re few and far between. It’s obvious where the laughs are supposed to be; the only thing missing is the laugh track—and the actual laughs. Performances are by no means bad, and there’s a certain “spot the actors” enjoyment to the exercise in retrospect (the Pointer Sisters appear as the Wilson sisters; George Carlin is a cabbie; Richard Pryor is a wealthy godfather type, and so on). There are plenty of black and gay stereotypes to be had, none of them particularly funny (nor offensive, really, given how positively presented the characters are), though the film did provide one oft-repeated, immortal line. When one person insults the effeminate gay character, Lindy, he replies, “I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get.” More subtle points of humor include signs in the car wash’s windows that read, “We are not responsible for your car” and “Best Handjobs in Town.” Accentuating all of this is an ever-present soundtrack that never lets up.

    All that said, Car Wash is a good-hearted movie, one whose minority characters—whether black, gay, Native American, or other—are inherently likable. Future director Joel Schumacher’s upbeat script works hard to make you like these characters, and the actors portraying them deliver. This may not be any great shakes as a work of cinematic art, but it remains a fascinating window into a time when cinema was working toward racial integration and reflecting society’s forward movement. This is mindless entertainment, but it’s somehow entertaining nonetheless.


    Car Wash comes to Blu-ray thanks to Shout Factory’s Select line with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. It is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. While the film’s colors are indicative of the realistic approach that most ‘70s films took, they are beautifully rendered in this aesthetically pleasing presentation. Most of the car wash’s employees wear orange, and the wash’s building is blue and orange. These and all other colors pop, as do the details. The image is relatively sharp with a high level of information, despite a lot of flat, detail-less surfaces. Check out the asphalt surfaces and motor vehicles, for example. Check out the crocheted red toboggan cap. Check out the SoCal trees. Most of the film takes place on a real location in Los Angeles, California, and the remastering here reveals the urban beauty of the place. There is a very mild level of grain, just enough to confirm that this is indeed film but not enough to overtake detail or squander color. Shout! has opted for a BD50 to hold the film, which runs 97 minutes, giving it a reasonably high bitrate. It’s doubtful the film has ever looked better than this, probably not even in its original theatrical run.

    Shout! has opted for an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (mono) track for the primary sound. It does a very good job of handling the various resonances: dialogue, score, effects, and occasional songs (including Rose Royce’s smash hit “Car Wash”). Despite Norman Whitfield’s continuous scoring, the dialogue is always clear and discernible. Shout! also provides subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired that do a good job of replicating the actual dialogue. There’s also a secondary track—also DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0—containing audio commentary from director Michael Schultz. Schultz discusses why he almost didn’t make the film, recognizing that it didn’t really have a story. The studio didn’t want Schultz tinkering with the script, however, so he took the job anyway, believing he could still affect the outcome. He discusses the characters and the actors who portray them, Schumacher’s contributions as screenwriter, the sympathetic women who star, the various comedians who pop up here and there, the dialogue and the way it was recorded, the excision of the gay/trans characters from the television print, the music, and so much more. There are moments of silence, during which the film’s sound is raised to fill the void. Though these moments are a little more common than they should be, the commentary is still informative and worth a listen. (For the record, the commentary was recorded for a British release of the film.)

    There are a few extras, including a reversible cover. The main cover is a new replication of past home video covers, while the reverse side utilizes artwork from the film’s original U.S. one-sheet. “Workin’ at the Car Wash with Otis Day” is an interview with the actor that lasts a little over 12 minutes. Day discusses whom he based his portrayal of Lloyd on, among other things. His voice is sometimes a little difficult to understand, but unfortunately there are no subtitles here or on the other extras. “Car Wash from Start to Finish with Gary Stromberg” visits one of the film’s producers and lasts a little over half an hour. Stromberg discusses how he got into the music and movie businesses, beginning with his work with Ray Charles. Both featurettes contain snippets from the film to accentuate the discussions.

    Also included is the trailer (2:21) and four radio spots (2:59).

    The Final Word:

    Car Wash is an example of a crowd pleaser that is plotless and not particularly funny, but it somehow manages to charm viewers nonetheless. Despite its stereotypes, it’s a positive portrayal of the interactions between people of disparate races, genders, and sexual orientations and as such works quite well. Shout Select’s Blu-ray release is colorful and sharp, with solid extras.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Yeah, the film doesn't do much for me, but that soundtrack! Yowzah.

      Great review!
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Thanks, Mark. My feelings about this film are... ambivalent. I certainly don't find it funny, yet I return to it at least once a decade. I first saw it on late-night television as a kid, then bought the Goodtimes VHS (at least, I believe it was Goodtimes), then bought the Image DVD, and then the Universal reissue DVD. And when Ian offered it to me to review, I jumped at it. I don't know why... I really don't... I simply feel compelled to revisit it every few years!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Wow, you are a Car Wash aficionado!
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Didn't you see its British ad line? "CAR WASH, the best plotless '70s politically incorrect comedy Hammer never made!"