A somewhat daffy book editor on a rail trip from Los Angeles to Chicago thinks that he sees a murdered man thrown from the train. When he can find no one who will believe him, he starts doing some investigating of his own. But all that accomplishes is to get the killer after him.
Gene Wilder ... George Caldwell
Jill Clayburgh ... Hilly Burns
Richard Pryor ... Grover Muldoon
Patrick McGoohan ... Roger Devereau
Ned Beatty ... Bob Sweet
Clifton James ... Sheriff Oliver Chauncey
Ray Walston ... Mr. Edgar Whiney
Stefan Gierasch ... Prof. Schreiner & Johnson
Len Birman ... Chief Donaldson
Valerie Curtin ... Plain Jane
Lucille Benson ... Rita Babtree
Scatman Crothers ... Ralston
Richard Kiel ... Reace
Fred Willard ... Jerry Jarvis
I saw this film in the cinema as a teenager when it came out. It was sold, I think, as a Hitchcock parody and I thought parodies were great. Gene Wilder was the star, that was one more reason for me to see it, as I had greatly enjoyed his performance in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. Stuff like that attracted me much more than movies with Robert Redford or Charles Bronson who then were the big male heroes of the screen.
Now, a good 30 years later, I watched Silver Streak a second time. It is an unusual mixture of comedy, action thriller and disaster movie. Characters like the ones played by Wilder, Clayburgh or Pryor seem to have become extinct – in the movies, I mean. They just seem to be so ... ordinary and normal and also kind hearted. Everything about Silver Streak is so unpretentious, seeing it today that really was a kind of a revelation to me.
A lot of the movie deals with masculinity and the assertion of it. It all happens in a very relaxed manner. Nothing and nobody is taken too seriously, conquests are made without effort, failure is accepted with grace. In a strange way, this movie really represents a better, unattainable world. I doubt if someone like Gene Wilder wold make it as a movie star today – the public, it seems, needs the grimaces of Jim Carrey to be amused. Pity.
Come to think of it, in France they had a movie comedian who looked very similar to Wilder. His name was Pierre Richard and his fame reached its zenith at about the same time as Wilder's before fizzling out somewhere in the eighties, when the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers took over.
Silver Streak is an entertaining and – in a positive way - forgettable movie. It has a pleasant musical score by Henry Mancini, this great eclecticist of the 20th century. The older I'm getting the more I enjoy his music and respect his enormous body of work.
"Silver Streak" was released the very same year the Master of Suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, released his black-comedy swan song, "Family Plot". Though Hitch was in the very twilight of his long, illustrious career, his playful style was alive and well, and well appropriated, in Hollywood. The Master didn't make this movie - Canadian Arthur ("Love Story") Hiller did - but the unmistakable fingerprints and shop-hewn template of Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (amongst other classics) are in great display thanks to writer Colin ("Foul Play") Higgins in the cheery, breezy action comedy, "Silver Streak".
"Silver Streak" is the first of four Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor match-ups and certainly in retrospect, one of the best. Wilder is an ordinary Joe taking the titular Amtrak train across country. In the midst of his journey, he befriends and beds fellow passenger Jill ("An Unmarried Woman") Clayburgh, ends up witnessing a murder then is wrongly accused of the crime, and is thrown off the train many, many times in his pursuit to clear his name, save the girl from a mysterious villain and get to the other side of the country.
This 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. Wilder is wonderful, fitfully funny as usual and shines as both a romantic lead (!) and does his patented "crazy" guy when things start falling apart. Just watching Wilder's eyes as he exasperatedly tries to explain out the fantastic plot he's wrapped up in to unbelieving characters along the way is one of the film's funniest, simplest rewards.
The film's masterstroke, however, is the addition of Richard Pryor as a part-time thief. Pryor was in the midst of a very hot career in 1976, 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... and you can't take your eyes off the guy.
Filmed all across his native Canada (thanks IMDb for confirming this!), director Hiller pulls this fun little audience-pleasing gem along the rails to a bright and exciting climax. The supporting cast is loaded with wonderful character actors including Patrick MacGoohan, Ray (My Favorite Martian) Walston, Ned Beatty and Scatman Crothers amongst others. A very luxurious and memorable score by Henry Mancini is the capper to this sparkling comedy, perfect as a primer for, and a loving compendium of, many of the Hitchcock classics that wait for you to discover them on DVD, VHS or on the tube.
If you like movies that are set on trains then this one will be up your street. It's one of the best train movies around and if you are a Gene Wilder fan then it's a real treat. Wilder and his brand of humor were no better than in this film. He was at his best in the 70's and early 80's to so all in all you can't go wrong with this great 70's classic. But that is not just it, Richard Prior joins in about a third of the way through the film and Patrick McGoohan who revels in playing mysterious or devious characters is in his element as the the smooth but the cold and ruthless Roger Devereau who'll go to any length to get what he wants. Also, for James Bond fans there is a small role for Clifton James playing a very similar character than he played in the Bond movies and also Richard Kiel who played one of Deveraux's heavies. The 7 foot actor would go onto play "Jaws" in two up-coming bond movies. Also in support are character actors Scatman Crowthers, Ray Walston and Ned Beatty with Jill Clayburgh playing the heroin.
Wilder plays George Caldwell an average Joe who has a dull job in publishing who decides to take Amtrax's "Silver Streak" from LA to Chicago so he can catch up with some paper work and reading. However, he somehow finds himself involved in a romantic relationship after clicking with fellow passenger Hilly Burns, but that's just for starters. While in Hilly's coach he sees a body being thrown from the train, strangely enough it turns out to be Hilly's boss professor Schreiner who is traveling with her. Caldwell starts to investigate this but soon finds himself way in over his head and is unceremoniously thrown off the train because of his meddling. Fortunately he manages to re-board the train further down the line much to the surprise of Deveraux and co. He soon discovers that Deveraux also knows Hilly Burns but the most shocking discovery is that the professor is alive and well and none the worse for wear. Maybe he did have too much champaign that night, perhaps it was the light playing tricks and he just imagined it? Then again why was he thrown from the train?
There are more questions than answers here and Caldwell not going to be put off decides to continue his investigating now knowing that he has to be less brazen and more cautious than before. So this publisher who was looking for the quiet life now finds himself getting more than he bargained for as he gets involved in espionage and intrigue. Nobody appears to be who they say they are and in the end he puts himself in more hot water as things unravel. Another body turns up but this time Caldwell himself is implicated in the death, so not only are Deveroux's men after him, it turns out the police are too!
Some would say that this is a spoof from a Hitchcock movie, there are similarities from a couple of Hitchocks movies, I would say that this is an adventure and not a spoof like AIRPLANE. It's more an adventure with the awkward and hapless George Caldwell. This type of performance was right up Wilder's street, being at the same time up against the serious Patrick McGoohan, this is why the film works! In the end everybody gets their just deserts and although the finale is somewhat predictable the last scenes are quite spectacular. Good entertainment all round, great outdoor shots of the train and the surrounding country, with an easy-going yet distinctive music score to boot. Not a bad watch at all!
* Exterior shots of the train set in the rural western U.S. were filmed on the Canadian Pacific line from the Crowsnest Pass to Lethbridge, Alberta. Interiors were shot in a studio, with the sets mounted on rubber tires so they could be rocked. To simulate the train passing through the shadow of a tree, a series of crew members would successively move obstructions in front of each of a row of lights shining into the windows.
* Originally meant to be filmed in the United States; however, the National Rail Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was fearful of adverse publicity and refused to cooperate. As a result, the producers were forced to work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, using thinly disguised CPRail equipment and shooting exteriors along the CP Rail right-of-way.
* The climatic train crash at the end of the film was shot in an airplane hanger.
* The locomotive used as "AM ROAD"'s 4070, was actually CP Rail's (formerly Canadian Pacific) 4070. For the filming, the AM ROAD decal was placed over the CP markings and "Multimark" pac-man logo. At the end on the shoot, the decals actually damaged the engines real paint job. The production company had to pay for the repainting of the engine, which took place in the CP Rail Transcona shops in Winnipeg Manitoba. The locomotive is a FP7A built by GMD in 1952. In 1982, CP sold it to STCUM, where it was re-numbered to 1300 in 1983. As of 2002, she is now sitting in "non-operational" storage in Montreal.
* Richard Pryor was uncomfortable shooting the scene where Grover puts the shoe shine on George's face to make him appear to be black. He asked Arthur Hiller for a re-shoot, which Hiller did, so they could show Grover reacting with horror to George's over-the-top performance.
* Robert Vaughn received the script in the mail, and loved it. He wanted to play Roger Devereau, but was dismayed to discover that Patrick McGoohan had already accepted the part. He contacted Arthur Hiller and discovered that it was sent by mistake. He was invited to watch the production, and became friends with star Gene Wilder.
* The engine crashing into the station was filmed in a Lockheed hangar in Burbank, California using a full-sized mock-up of the FP-7A locomotive.
* When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen "Silver Streak", Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by "North by Northwest". As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, "I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?"