Sunday, May 4, 2008
Silver Streak; action comedy, USA, 1976; D: Arthur Hiller, S: Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Richard Pryor, Ray Walston, Scatman Crothers
Publisher George Caldwell takes a 2 day train trip from L.A. to Chicago to attend his sister's wedding. He meets an annoying vitamin salesman, Bob, but also falls for the charming Hilly. But while in bed, he spots a dead man, professor Schreiner, fall from the window. Nobody believes him, and when he goes to his compartment, he is thrown out of the train by two thugs. He manages to come back, only to discover tycoon Devereau really killed the professor who found incriminating Rembrandt letters that prove some of his paintings are forgeries. Bob, who turns out to be an FBI agent, is shot, while George is again thrown out of the train. He meets a criminal, Grover, and manages to save Hilly, letting the runaway train collide with the wall.
Do not feel uncomfortable if you do not find anything special in the action comedy "Silver Streak", since there isn't that much to admire in the routine story either, whereas its only significant importance is that it teamed up comedians Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor for the first time on the big screen, even though that is a bit of a stretch, too, since Pryor shows up very late in the film, some 40 minutes before the end. Set in a long journey in a train, the story is neatly set up, but hopelessly sloppy, cheap, overstretched and unfunny - most of the gags rely on such trivial examples of humor like when an overweight man cannot pass through the train hallway and thus pushes George through the door into a compartment, where he accidentally lands in front of a lady who screams "rapist" at him or when George falls out of the train and lands on a farm where he has trouble milking a cow. The crime, action and chase elements completely run over the comedy side, making one wonder if the film should have been just a straight forward suspense film, even though that concept has been used already in "Narrow Margin", while Wilder cannot save the uneven rhythm. By far, Pryor is the best ingredient in the film - as a runaway criminal who teams up with the coiled George, he manages to ignite a few gags here and there, like when he tries to disguise him as a Black man.