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I saw this film in the cinema as a teenager when it came out. It was
sold, I think, as a Hitchcock parody and I thought parodies were great.
Gene Wilder was the star, that was one more reason for me to see it, as
I had greatly enjoyed his performance in Mel Brooks' Young
Frankenstein. Stuff like that attracted me much more than movies with
Robert Redford or Charles Bronson who then were the big male heroes of
Now, a good 30 years later, I watched Silver Streak a second time. It is an unusual mixture of comedy, action thriller and disaster movie. Characters like the ones played by Wilder, Clayburgh or Pryor seem to have become extinct in the movies, I mean. They just seem to be so ... ordinary and normal and also kind hearted. Everything about Silver Streak is so unpretentious, seeing it today that really was a kind of a revelation to me.
A lot of the movie deals with masculinity and the assertion of it. It all happens in a very relaxed manner. Nothing and nobody is taken too seriously, conquests are made without effort, failure is accepted with grace. In a strange way, this movie really represents a better, unattainable world. I doubt if someone like Gene Wilder wold make it as a movie star today the public, it seems, needs the grimaces of Jim Carrey to be amused. Pity.
Come to think of it, in France they had a movie comedian who looked very similar to Wilder. His name was Pierre Richard and his fame reached its zenith at about the same time as Wilder's before fizzling out somewhere in the eighties, when the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers took over.
Silver Streak is an entertaining and in a positive way - forgettable movie. It has a pleasant musical score by Henry Mancini, this great eclecticist of the 20th century. The older I'm getting the more I enjoy his music and respect his enormous body of work.
"Silver Streak" was released the very same year the Master of Suspense,
Sir Alfred Hitchcock, released his black-comedy swan song, "Family
Plot". Though Hitch was in the very twilight of his long, illustrious
career, his playful style was alive and well, and well appropriated, in
Hollywood. The Master didn't make this movie - Canadian Arthur ("Love
Story") Hiller did - but the unmistakable fingerprints and shop-hewn
template of Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (amongst other classics)
are in great display thanks to writer Colin ("Foul Play") Higgins in
the cheery, breezy action comedy, "Silver Streak".
"Silver Streak" is the first of four Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor match-ups and certainly in retrospect, one of the best. Wilder is an ordinary Joe taking the titular Amtrak train across country. In the midst of his journey, he befriends and beds fellow passenger Jill ("An Unmarried Woman") Clayburgh, ends up witnessing a murder then is wrongly accused of the crime, and is thrown off the train many, many times in his pursuit to clear his name, save the girl from a mysterious villain and get to the other side of the country.
This is a very gentle but funny comedy that plays with the conventions of one of Hitch's favorite themes, the mistaken identity of everyday man in extraordinary circumstances. Wilder is wonderful, fitfully funny as usual and shines as both a romantic lead (!) and does his patented "crazy" guy when things start falling apart. Just watching Wilder's eyes as he exasperatedly tries to explain out the fantastic plot he's wrapped up in to unbelieving characters along the way is one of the film's funniest, simplest rewards.
The film's masterstroke, however, is the addition of Richard Pryor as a part-time thief. Pryor was in the midst of a very hot career in 1976, and although this film seems to restrain some of the imagination and language of his stage presence and TV specials, (this is a PG-rated movie, after all), he still creates an indelible extended 'cameo' that fuses film with a hip, perfectly cool counterbalance to Wilder's mania and confusion. When Pryor is on screen he not only steals the film, but also elevates this old-fashioned adventure-comedy concept to something otherwise original... and you can't take your eyes off the guy.
Filmed all across his native Canada (thanks IMDb for confirming this!), director Hiller pulls this fun little audience-pleasing gem along the rails to a bright and exciting climax. The supporting cast is loaded with wonderful character actors including Patrick MacGoohan, Ray (My Favorite Martian) Walston, Ned Beatty and Scatman Crothers amongst others. A very luxurious and memorable score by Henry Mancini is the capper to this sparkling comedy, perfect as a primer for, and a loving compendium of, many of the Hitchcock classics that wait for you to discover them on DVD, VHS or on the tube.
AFI listed this as one of the top 100 comedies, and I think they got
it right. This was the first and best pairing of Richard Pryor and
Gene Wilder. Unlike their later movies together, this one isn't
simply a buddy flick. Its also a romantic comedy thriller and nails
every genre it aims for. It was written by Colin Higgins, the guy who
wrote Harold & Maude. He is a genius at witty dialog which is most
apparent in the first act, where Wilder meets Jill Clayburgh on a
train, the two get drunk and seduce one another. Despite the fact
that no nudity is involved, the sophisticated verbal exchanges
between Wilder and Clayburgh and Henry Mancini's lovely theme
combine to make for a really gorgeous love scene. Who would
have thought Gene Wilder could be sexy?
A very similar film (and almost as good) is "Foul Play," written and also directed by Colin Higgins in 1978. If you liked this one, you should see that as well.
I first saw this movie in 1976 when I was all but about 13 years of age,
with some friends in my home town (Dryden, Ontario) at the local "Royal"
theatre, as it was known then. I just finished watching my VHS copy of it,
which brings my total number of viewings up to 30-something...
Why do I like this film so much? It was the first movie I've seen that had it all: action, suspense, romance, a lot of laughs, but most of all - adventure. All of this helped manufacture a great storyline. In short, one of the most memorable movies I've ever seen, and I enjoy myself greatly with each repeated viewing. It made me a big fan of the Wilder/Pryor combination. It made me a huge fan of train travel. It made me a "road movie" fanatic.
A classic in my book. 9/10
If you can get through the meandering first 15 minutes, you should enjoy the rest of this adventure comedy. Wilder is heading from LA to Chicago by train when he falls into a fling with Clayburgh. During foreplay he sees her boss outside the window, falling off the train. She doesn't believe him, and when he tries to look into it further, he's chucked off the train as well...but alive. He finds his way back to the train with the help of crack-up wacko farm lady Benson. More problems ensue when he catches up with Clayburgh as the killers reveal themselves. Pryor is later thrown into the mix as a good-hearted thief who helps Wilder in his quest. For 1976, this was pretty well advanced in terms of racey dialogue and stunts, and still holds up nicely today. The most memorable thing is Wilder's classic line when falling off the train. Sadly, you're reminded of the age of the film because of so many of the cast members that have died, and how it makes you think that others probably aren't far off. But it also makes you think of how great they all were as an ensemble that provided a good amount of laughs and suspense.
This is THE film to see, if you're a fan of either Gene Wilder or Richard Pryor. Although Pryor's stay in the film is rather short, it is perhaps his greatest comedic work outside of his monumental stand up routines. A combination, the Lady Vanishes, and slap stick, this film succeeds because it blends these elements together in a way that makes the flow easy and entertaining. These are situations and reactions to them, that we the audience can envision ourselves partaking in. They don't get crazy mad cap like in an Abbot and Costello film, and yet they don't take themselves too seriously either. A great end to the film, with a truly amazing crash through Chicago Union Station by a runaway Locomotive.
I see Silver Streak as a mild Hitchcock parody that is a nice little blend of comedy and mystery.Gene Wilder,while not at his absolute best,impresses nonetheless here.Jill Clayburgh is credible as the love interest.Yes it is the first film in which Wilder teamed with Richard Pryor,yet Wilder and Pryor are only together for a small percentage of the overall film.The film,though,has a strong enough foundation in terms of story and performances to where Pryor and Wilder do not really need to be together throughout.In fact,this is their best teaming ever despite that fact.To top it all off,the ending is a rather exciting one.A definite worthwhile watch.
Though Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder have made about 5 films together this
one really shows the chemistry between them.
Gene Wilder is a somewhat average guy that gets involved in a mysterious murder by accident. In the attempts to get rid of him by the criminals he's forced to seek the support of various different individuals, of which Richard Pryor and the cow-farming lady flying the WOI airplane are the most remarkable characters.
Though both Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, as well as Ned Beatty, give the movie the label "comedy", Patrick Mc Goohan and Richard "Jaws" Kiel give it a real thriller character at the same moment: they keep up their performance of tough killers without a sense of humor effortlessly.
The movie itself starts somewhat slowly, but just when you start to feel disappointed because you think you're watching a soft romantic road(train)-movie, a hilarious rat-race is about to start!
Always agreeable to watch whenever it's broad-casted again...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you like movies that are set on trains then this one will be up your
street. It's one of the best train movies around and if you are a Gene
Wilder fan then it's a real treat. Wilder and his brand of humor were
no better than in this film. He was at his best in the 70's and early
80's to so all in all you can't go wrong with this great 70's classic.
But that is not just it, Richard Prior joins in about a third of the
way through the film and Patrick McGoohan who revels in playing
mysterious or devious characters is in his element as the the smooth
but the cold and ruthless Roger Devereau who'll go to any length to get
what he wants. Also, for James Bond fans there is a small role for
Clifton James playing a very similar character than he played in the
Bond movies and also Richard Kiel who played one of Deveraux's heavies.
The 7 foot actor would go onto play "Jaws" in two up-coming bond
movies. Also in support are character actors Scatman Crowthers, Ray
Walston and Ned Beatty with Jill Clayburgh playing the heroin.
Wilder plays George Caldwell an average Joe who has a dull job in publishing who decides to take Amtrax's "Silver Streak" from LA to Chicago so he can catch up with some paper work and reading. However, he somehow finds himself involved in a romantic relationship after clicking with fellow passenger Hilly Burns, but that's just for starters. While in Hilly's coach he sees a body being thrown from the train, strangely enough it turns out to be Hilly's boss professor Schreiner who is traveling with her. Caldwell starts to investigate this but soon finds himself way in over his head and is unceremoniously thrown off the train because of his meddling. Fortunately he manages to re-board the train further down the line much to the surprise of Deveraux and co. He soon discovers that Deveraux also knows Hilly Burns but the most shocking discovery is that the professor is alive and well and none the worse for wear. Maybe he did have too much champaign that night, perhaps it was the light playing tricks and he just imagined it? Then again why was he thrown from the train?
There are more questions than answers here and Caldwell not going to be put off decides to continue his investigating now knowing that he has to be less brazen and more cautious than before. So this publisher who was looking for the quiet life now finds himself getting more than he bargained for as he gets involved in espionage and intrigue. Nobody appears to be who they say they are and in the end he puts himself in more hot water as things unravel. Another body turns up but this time Caldwell himself is implicated in the death, so not only are Deveroux's men after him, it turns out the police are too!
Some would say that this is a spoof from a Hitchcock movie, there are similarities from a couple of Hitchocks movies, I would say that this is an adventure and not a spoof like AIRPLANE. It's more an adventure with the awkward and hapless George Caldwell. This type of performance was right up Wilder's street, being at the same time up against the serious Patrick McGoohan, this is why the film works! In the end everybody gets their just deserts and although the finale is somewhat predictable the last scenes are quite spectacular. Good entertainment all round, great outdoor shots of the train and the surrounding country, with an easy-going yet distinctive music score to boot. Not a bad watch at all!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a delectable trip back to the 70's. A witty plot, Pryor and Wilder bouncin' off each other - the first time, I do b'lieve. Love the train framework of the movie. And the soundtrack by the Master, Henry Mancini, is so sumptuous, 'specially the slow tune that recurs again and agin'. And Jill Clayburgh sure ain't hard on the eyes. Ned Beatty is a great bumblin' fed. agent - watch the early scene on the train, he tries (very clumsily) to come on to Clayburgh's character - and she breathes "Are you hot?" to him in feigned arousal... and then...! *G* And Wilder's such a master of understated comedic gesture. Plays the cultivated garden specialist/publisher convincingly (he prol'ly is a cultivated fella). I can watch this movie repeatedly (ask my girlfriend... *G*). And then there's the wondrous, 70's-era, long, drawn out strings of the train theme by Mr Mancini. Appears the first time as the train is pulling out at dusk, out of Los Angeles (check out Wilder's pronunciation thereof - old 'anglo-style': Lahss-ANG-gull'uss - I had a Great Aunt that said it like that). Enjoy the movie, folks. All Aboard!
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