Silver Streak (1976)
August 23, 2022 11:55 AM - Subscribe

While on a cross-country train ride, overworked book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) begins an unexpected romance with an enigmatic woman named Hilly Burns (Jill Clayburgh). His vacation is interrupted, however, when he witnesses a murder for which he is then accused. The true villains kidnap Hilly and eject Caldwell from the moving train. Desperate, Caldwell teams up with car thief Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor), and together they must save Hilly while avoiding the police.

Written by Colin Higgins (Harold & Maude). Directed by Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws).

81% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Criterion. Also available for digital rental on multiple services. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I could watch Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor all day long. This movie is a lot of fun, and from my memory, much smarter than one might expect.

And let's not forget the villain, played by Number 6 himself, Patrick McGoohan!
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:36 PM on August 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

A Hitchcockian buddy comedy teaming Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor could have been a huge, weird mess, but somehow it works.

I watched Harold & Maude for the first time just a few years ago, and the script is such a little gem that it inspired me to look up Colin Higgins to see what else he'd done. He wrote/directed a number of hits, including Foul Play, 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, strange and messy movies with ardent cult followings. Silver Streak and Foul Play seem like they could be the work of the same guy, but otherwise he was really all over the place. Harold & Maude is the oddest of an odd lot and I think it may be his best. It was decades ahead of its time and you can see its influence in filmmakers ranging from Wes Anderson to Judd Apatow.

After a string of hits Higgins seemed to kind of disappear for a couple of years and his last credit was a TV movie. The slowing of his output may well have been related to his health, since he died of AIDS at just 47. He was a real Hollywood original.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:40 PM on August 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

I need to rewatch this. There was a time in the late 90s when Comedy Central played this ALL THE TIME to the point I just roll my eyes and change the channel if it was on, but it's been long enough now I can enjoy it again.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2022

I first saw this in the theater with a bunch of friends... we laughed like maniacs. And it was always a go-to on HBO when they ran it hundreds of times in the 80's. Loved the crash sequence, the train just kissing the Fiat as it stopped, how they anthropomorphize the locomotive after the crash, Scatman Crothers yelling "Hello Chicago!" and Pryor driving off in the X1/9.

This was also the first time an actor in blackface made me remarkably uncomfortable.
posted by Marky at 8:49 PM on August 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

I saw this once, as a kid, in late 1976. What I recall mostly from it was that this was the movie in front of which I saw the trailer for Star Wars. I remember almost nothing of Silver Streak itself save that the train punches through a wall in the train station at the end.

Looks like two minutes up front made a much bigger impression than the two hours after.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:49 AM on August 24, 2022

This was also the first time an actor in blackface made me remarkably uncomfortable.

I think the reason the scene works (for me, I hasten to add) and has never gone viral as an "OMG Willie Wonka did blackface!!" moment, is because the joke seems like it's entirely on Wilder's character. Pryor's character suggests the shoe polish and tries to teach Wilder to "act Black" as a life-saving disguise, and then Wilder's character is just so white that he makes an absolute hash of it. It's certainly an edgy comedy moment, but we're laughing at Wilder's desperation and cluelessness in the moment and I don't feel like it's really meant to say anything about Black people.

If anybody is offended I'm not going to argue with them. I'm definitely not saying I've got an airtight case here! But personally I feel like this stands apart from the blackface in other comedies because the white audience is never meant to say, "Ho ho, that impersonation says something funny about Black people!" It's cringe comedy about just how badly Wilder's character is botching his disguise.

Looks like two minutes up front made a much bigger impression than the two hours after.

I saw it as a kid and loved it, but I can see how it might not connect with a lot of kids. There are a lot of classic movies from that era that bored me shitless because I saw them too young. When you're six years old, grown-up movies can just seem like people sitting around talking about baffling nonsense forever. These days movies that play in theaters tend to mostly be spectacles that kids can enjoy, so they may never know that experience of being trapped in a theater for two endless hours, being confused as hell while the grown-ups in the movie stand around in parking garages passing suitcases full of microfilm back and forth.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:48 PM on August 24, 2022

Pretty sure this was the first movie I saw on Encore not long after it launched. I didn't get it at all, but I watched to the end anyway. I watched it again from the beginning not long after because it was like 2AM in the summer when the alternative was watching goofy infomercials I'd seen what felt like a thousand times. Turned out it was OK, but I still didn't really get it

It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I gained an appreciation for the style of filmmaking common before sometime in the mid-80s and I don't recall seeing it since then, so thanks for reminding me of it so I can give it another rewatch.
posted by wierdo at 10:15 PM on August 24, 2022

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