Films on TV round-up: it was acceptable in the eighties

Ed Williamson

2nd October 2011

Shit, I haven't written this in about a month, have I? Films are the ones that are a bit longer than TV shows, right? Usually got Ryan Gosling in them? OK, I got this.

Commencing: Monday 3rd October 2011

Trading Places (1983) Monday, Film4, 9pm

Much-derided decade, the eighties. Some questionable clothes, sure, and a bit too much Culture Club, but for comedy films? That's your high watermark, right there.

The sudden rich seam of comedy sprung up mainly from the cast members of Saturday Night Live and Second City Television, including John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Billy Crystal, John Candy and Rick Moranis, performers who all eventually outgrew the small screen and moved into movies. Among the SNL alumni most successful in film were Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, who between them would churn out Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop (also on this week), The Blues Brothers, 48 Hrs, Dragnet, Coming to America and Spies Like Us.

I wonder whether my laptop battery would give me more than ten unplugged minutes these days if I hadn't worn it out writing so many long, convoluted introductory paragraphs and ham-fisted segueways? Yes, these two guys are also both in Trading Places, in which rich commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) and homeless Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) swap places as part of Winthorpe's employers' bet to see whether the rich man will turn to crime and the poor man can run their company.

A modern-day take on The Prince on the Pauper, then - a piece of information I in no way got from Wikipedia - and one with a lot of laughs and a premise that never feels overstretched. This was back when Murphy in a film was a guarantee it'd be funny, before he decided that fat suits and playing every role yourself was the way to go, and when Aykroyd just ran comedy. I mean, all of it. And the thing you notice about these guys is that they can really act. It's easy enough to breeze through a comedy film focusing on the gags and not much on your performance, but these two could do it all. And they did. Before they, you know, stopped.
Brewster's Millions (1985) Tuesday, ITV4, 7pm (also Saturday, 5pm)

And you would never have had Eddie Murphy without Richard Pryor. Not just in terms of stand-up - the influence is pretty obvious there - but if Murphy had planned to end up doing family comedy films he couldn't have thought he had a chance of success until Pryor did it.

As a kid I saw Richard Pryor in a load of safe comedies, and so it was a bit of a shock when I grew up and saw him on TV doing stand-up shows called 'That Nigger's Crazy', with material about setting himself on fire whilst freebasing cocaine and growing up in a brothel. It's hard to piece the two people together, until you hear he signed a $40,000,000 contract with Columbia Pictures to make comedy films for five years. Understandably, they didn't want anything edgy for that kind of money.

Brewster's Millions is one of the films that came out of those five years, telling the story of Monty Brewster, a washed-up minor league baseball pitcher whose long-lost great-uncle dies and leaves him a challenge in his will: spend thirty million dollars in thirty days leaving no assets and you get three hundred million. Fail and you get nothing. Along the way he comes to hate money, and there's a love story too, of course. John Candy's his right-hand-man, coming along for the ride and being his usual one-man comic wrecking-crew in the process.

You look back on Pryor's Columbia films - like Stir Crazy, Moving, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Superman III - and see a man with great comic gifts but also a much-underrated ability to get an audience on his side. He's the average Joe thrown into a crazy situation - the comparison seems bizarre but his characters and performances share a lot of ground with Tom Hanks - and you relate to him and want him to win. White audiences have never consistently reacted that way to a black actor before or since. Maybe because we're all MASSIVE RACISTS - but maybe just because Richard Pryor was actually pretty flipping awesome.
Also on this week

Carlito's Way Monday, ITV4, 10pm
The World is Not Enough Monday, ITV2, 11pm (also Tuesday, 9pm)
There's Something about Mary Tuesday, Film4, 9pm
Scarface Tuesday, ITV4, 10.45pm
Ocean's Twelve Wednesday, ITV2, 12.20am
School of Rock Wednesday, E4, 8pm
The Bourne Identity Wednesday, ITV2, 10.45pm
Goodfellas Wednesday, ITV4, 11.45pm
Good Morning, Vietnam Thursday, Film4, 9pm
Falling Down Thursday, ITV4, 9pm (also Saturday, 9pm)
Happy Gilmore Thursday, ITV2, 10.45pm
Casino Thursday, ITV4, 11.15pm
MASH Friday, More4, 9pm
Men in Black Friday, 5*, 9pm
The Sixth Sense Friday, Film4, 9pm
Live and Let Die Friday, ITV4, 10pm
Alexander Friday, ITV1, 10.35pm
Shine a Light Friday, More4, 11.15pm
Ray Saturday, ITV3, 12.05am
Clash of the Titans (1981) Saturday, C5, 5.40pm
Star Trek (2009) Saturday, C4, 7.30pm
Beverly Hills Cop Saturday, Film4, 9pm

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