Starring: Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Ned Beatty, Jill Clayburg, Ray Walston and others.
If you like movies that are set on trains then this one will be up your alley. In a day when train films are few and far between, Silver Streak is one of the better ones around. If you are a Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor fan then it’s a real treat. Wilder and his particular brand of humor are in spades in this film. In my opinion Wilder was at his best in the 70’s and early 80’s. Let’s not forget that Richard Prior joins in about a third of the way through the film and Patrick McGoohan (TV series Danger Man) is in his idiom when playing mysterious or devious characters and in Silver Streak plays the smooth but cold and ruthless Roger Devereau who’ll go to any length to get what he wants. “Jaws” (Clifton James) for all of you James Bond fans plays a small role like his characters played in the Bond movies. Also as supporting characters are Scatman Crowthers, Ray Walston and Ned Beatty with Jill Clayburgh playing the heroine.
Wilder plays George Caldwell, a boring average everyday man who decides to take Amtrak’s “Silver Streak” from LA to Chicago to do some reading. As is often portrayed in 1970s movies, within his first 15 minutes into a bar scene Wilder finds himself a woman that he gets “romantically involved” with — fellow passenger Hilly Burns (Jill Clayburg). While in Hilly’s cabin (next to his naturally) he sees a corpse thrown from the train, that turns out to be Hilly’s boss. Wilder starts to investigate this but soon finds himself way in over his head and is unceremoniously thrown off the train several times because of his meddling.
Enter Richard Pryor, who appears as a thief in a police car stolen by Wilder to get back on the Silver Streak. Prior steals the show from here on out. At the time (1976) Pryor was in the midst of a very hot career, 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.
As you can probably guess, everything turns out just fine in the end. But that is not the true value of Silver Streak. “Silver Streak” is the first of four Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor match-ups and certainly in retrospect, one of the best. The other three being Stir Crazy (also a classic), See No Evil and Another You. The Wilder-Pryor pairing was able to take relatively formulaic movies and make them interesting.
In short Silver Streak 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.