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Picks and Pans Review: The Toy

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Richard Pryor is an out-of-work reporter who finds employment as a part-time maintenance worker in the sprawling empire of a Louisiana tycoon named U.S. Bates, played by Jackie Gleason. When Gleason’s unloved, friendless little son, Scott Schwartz, comes home from military school to spend a week, he encounters the buffooning Pryor in a sporting goods store. The kid, instructed by Daddy to buy anything he wants, selects Pryor—and Gleason’s yes-men pay him off and ship him home to the mansion. It’s an utterly preposterous setup, and indeed, the first half of the script by Carol (Annie) Sobieski and directed by Richard (Superman) Donner is full, for the most part, of sight gags. (The kid dumps buckets of mush on Pryor’s head; Pryor takes a low blow from a boxing robot.) And there are more than enough dumb double entendres, such as referring to the kid as “Master Bates” and having Gleason’s third wife, the balloon-chested Teresa Ganzel, drawlingly call him “You-ass” instead of “U.S.” Meanwhile, of course, Pryor and the kid end up discovering brotherly bonds of love, and the movie’s second half is largely about Pryor’s helping the kid reach out for Gleason. “If you love him and need him,” he instructs the boy at one point, “tell him.” The last 20 minutes—when they unite at last against the corrupt, power-mad Gleason—are oddly endearing and warmhearted. Pryor turns out to be unexpectedly sweet and even lovable here. Gleason is still the screen’s most amusing Fat Cat character. But as the 9-year-old brat who at once learns to cry and love, Schwartz steals The Toy from his comedic elders. (PG)