Recently, Mental Floss published this feature highlighting 10 things we may not have known about the Richard Pryor-starring Brewster’s Millions. It was an alright list with a few interesting bits of trivia but it got me thinking about how much I’d watched this movie when I was younger as it was one of those that was on cable all the time. The story is simple and the movie is a remake of other versions: Montgomery Brewster (Pryor) finds out he had a relative he’d never heard of who was ridiculously wealthy. That relative informs Brewster he stands to inherit $300m, but only if he can spend $30m in 30 days and come away from it with no tangible assets. So no houses, no flashy cars: no nothing. Oh, and he can’t tell anyone what he’s doing. So with the help of his friend and minor league baseball teammate Spike (John Candy), he sets out to blow a lot of money in a mysterious manner.
“You don’t have to be crazy to blow 30 million dollars in 30 days. But it helps.” That’s the value proposition on the movie’s poster, which positions Pryor as he’s bursting up through a sea of cash. Candy is positioned above him, lounging and holding a wad of bills. Pryor looks worried and a bit harried while Candy looks like he’s having the time of his life. Pryor’s name appears above the title treatment and below the title we’re told this is “An American excess story.”
All that combines to tell the audience what the basic outline of the movie is, that Pryor’s character has to spend a lot of money quickly. You’ve got the money shown and the copy is pretty good, though the “…excess..” bit makes it sound like he’s an eccentric millionaire on some sort of crazy binge. But what it does show clearly is just what a huge star Pryor was at the time. His name on the poster is as big as the title treatment, making it clear that he’s the star and the title character. I can’t help but think, quite frankly, that putting a black man as the sole above-the-title lead is something that wouldn’t happen today. At least not in anything that wasn’t a movie specifically aimed at an African-American audience. instead this is a mainstream release where the white guy on the poster and in the movie isn’t even mentioned in the credit block.
For the trailer, we’re introduced to Montgomery Brewster and his dying relative, who leaves him all kinds of money and we see the caveats and conditions that are put on that inheritance. Spike is super-excited and Brewster immediately starts throwing money around, hiring a personal photographer and driver, renting a penthouse and more. We see the people around him react like he’s going crazy with the way he’s spending his money. There’s a fun moment where Brewster curses and it’s bleeped out since apparently the line was good to leave out of the trailer and yeah, it works. Finally, we get the same “An American excess story” at the end that was on the poster.
It’s a fun trailer that sells the movie as a lighthearted romp around the city with someone who’s doing something crazy in an effort to get an even bigger prize. Again, Pryor is clearly the star here and he’s front-and-center in the trailer. Candy this time at least gets name-dropped, a step above his place on the poster, but that’s about it. It’s a short trailer but conveys the plot and the value proposition clearly and concisely without spoiling almost anything from the back half the movie, including how (as in Trading Places) there are self-interested bankers who manage the situation who are actively working against Brewster and his plan.
This is the kind of movie that doesn’t seem to be made very much anymore and when it is – the nearest example I can think of is Chris Rock’s recent Top Five – it’s not very successful. The campaign plays up Pryor’s personality and persona and presents the movie as being a light, fluffy piece of entertainment starring one of the biggest comedians at the time.