Silver Streak (1976) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG for language and sexuality
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Richard Pryor, Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Clifton James, Ray Walston
Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Colin Higgins
Silver Streak is the first of two Colin Higgins scripts to emulate the lighter side of Hitchcock (Foul Play is the other), and even though no one would ever confuse the quality of this film with that of Hitch's The Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest, for a modest little comedy that just seeks to entertain, it's a pleasant enough for a diluted imitation.
It's also the first of four films that would join 70s comedic giants, Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles) and Richard Pryor, who re-teamed for the 1980 hit Stir Crazy, as well as See No Evil Hear No Evil (which was also directed by Hiller), and Another You. Pryor's role wasn't written with him in mind, but he does change the pace just by his presence, and even the straight man Wilder pulls off some funny stuff in an amusing slapstick performance. We like them enough on their own, but they have a natural chemistry together that's undeniable.
Wilder plays George, a book editor that decides to travel cross-country by train to have a boring time where he can get some much needed rest and relaxation. Things get more exciting when he romances a fellow traveler named Hilly (Clayburgh), but while the two are alone in their compartment, George witnesses a dead body who falls from the train, who happens to be Hilly's boss. George tries to report it, but everyone seems reluctant to believe him, especially when the "dead man" appears back on the train the next day in full health. However, a few turn of events later, and George finds himself in a battle for his life in a cover-up involving a shady art dealer and his quest for something called the "Rembrandt papers".
As plots go, it's all very silly, and it's full of some fairly large logic holes, but Hiller keeps the pace brisk enough for you to think about things too long. Silver Streak's goals are modest -- a little comedy, a little intrigue, a little romance, and a whole lot of fun. Taken as pure entertainment, it fits the bill, and even if the jokes aren't always side-splitting, there are many smiles to be had from the zany performances of Wilder and Pryor.
If you like Wilder, Pryor or Clayburgh, you won't be disappointed, especially if you enjoy light-hearted action-mysteries.
©2004 Vince Leo