SILVER STREAK scored a big hit in 1976 (#11 for the year), director Arthur Hiller and screenwriter Colin Higgins delivering another of the era’s genially goofy comedies mixed with fairly ruthless action, this one splashed with romance and boosted by putting Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor together to buddy up. Jill Clayburgh is The Dame, Patrick McGoohan the Main Bad Guy.
‘George Caldwell’ (Wilder) boards the Silver Streak train for a cross-country trip to Chicago, hoping to enjoy peace and quiet. A chance meetup (it’s never clearly explained) with alluring ‘Hilly Burns’ (Clayburgh) fueled by champagne and hormones propels them into the sack, berth bliss interrupted when George witnesses a murder. Eventual labyrinthine plot twists put George and friendly thief ‘Grover Muldoon’ (Pryor) together in a race to foil a gang of killers and save Hilly.
Moderately fun for the first half, then it sags under too many extraneous characters and repetition. Pryor arrives an hour in and more silliness descends into mayhem, with a BIG finish. At 114 minutes, too long by a good 20, and the casual violent dispatch of several characters, including some who are innocent, dulls the mirth. The actors, scenery and stunts are better than their sloppy, overladen script and tone-flippant direction. Amusing to a point, then tiresome, saved by the stops-pulled climax. Aren’t we all?
Some shooting was done in California, but most was accomplished in Canada, in Alberta and Ontario, using a Canadian Pacific train (with modifications) because all-American conveyor Amtrak was worried about negative publicity. Like their scheduling and food service doesn’t bring any?
Pulled an Oscar nomination for Best Sound. Made for $6,500,000: by itself, the crash scene—a literal showstopper—lasting all of 45 seconds, used a half-million of those smacks. It works. Grosses clocked in at $51,100,000. Critics were mostly kind and this audience-gatherer helped rescue Clayburgh from the critical debacle of Gable And Lombard; she went on to Semi-Tough, An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over. Wilder & Pryor re-teamed for Stir Crazy (an even bigger hit), then the lame See No Evil, Hear No Evil, finally a dead duck Another You.
With Ned Beatty, Ray Walston (wasted), Clifton James (in a needless detour section, riffing off his idiot sheriff in Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun), Stefan Gierasch, Scatman Crothers, Richard Kiel (just prior to using his teeth on The Spy Who Loved Me), Len Birman, Lucille Benson, Valerie Curtin, Fred Willard, Henry Beckman. Robert Culp has an uncredited bit (good luck spotting him). Henry Mancini did the score.