Silver Streak

MPW-57609

1976

20th Century Fox

Directed by Arthur Hiller

Produced by Thomas L. Miller/Edward K. Milkis

Written by Colin Higgins

Music by Henry Mancini

For most people “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie is “Stir Crazy.” But lemme ask you this: outside of the “Dat’s right, we bad, we bad” scene, how much of the movie’s plot or story do you actually remember? And let’s not even bring “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You” into this conversation. Richard Pryor doesn’t enter SILVER STREAK until we’re a good hour into the plot but it’s a wise move. Because he gives the movie a huge burst of energy and unpredictability that carries us along for the other hour. He comes in the movie at exactly the right time he’s needed. And for me, that makes SILVER STREAK “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie. Put any of their other collaborations on the TV and I’ll most likely doze off thirty minutes in. Put SILVER STREAK on and I’ll be on the edge of my seat from start to finish. SILVER STREAK is a movie I’ve seen maybe fifteen times since I first saw in the theater way back in 1976 and I saw it again today on Netflix and laughed just as hard and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time I saw it.

Before you continue with this review I feel it only fair to warn you that this is the movie with the “shoe polish” scene where Richard Pryor disguises Gene Wilder in blackface in order to get him past FBI agents looking for him. In the context of the movie their actions make perfect sense. However I know the hypersensitive among you don’t give a poobah’s pizzle for context so maybe you should just go to another movie review, okay? But you’ll be cheating yourself out of the scene where Richard Pryor is attempting teach Gene Wilder how to “be black” is among one of the most hilarious in movie history.

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Book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) boards a train called The Silver Streak in Los Angeles to travel to his sister’s wedding in Chicago. Yeah, he could have flown but he’s looking forward to just getting some work done and being bored. His Pullman Porter Ralston (Scatman Crothers) assures him that boredom is exactly what he’ll get. He meets quite a few of his fellow passengers in the club car, including vitamin salesman Bobby Sweet (Ned Beatty) and ends up having dinner with the insanely hot Hildegarde “Hilly” Burns (Jill Clayburgh).

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Their late night rendezvous is interrupted by what George thinks is a dead body falling off the roof of the train past the window of Hilly’s compartment he sees while they’re in her bed. It’s complicated even more by George’s insistence that the man is her boss, Professor Scheriner (Stefan Gierasch) The next day George goes to check on the professor and instead runs into two shady characters, Whiney (Ray Walston) and Reese (Richard Kiel) who throw George off the train. They both work for Roger Deveraux (Patrick McGoohan) an international art dealer whose reputation will be destroyed if Professor Scheriner’s book about Rembrandt is published. Professor Scheriner has his possessesion “The Rembrandt Letters” ancient documents that will authenticate the claims Scheriner has made in public that Deveraux is a fraud.

George manages to get back on The Silver Streak with the help of eccentric crop duster Rita Babtree (Lucille Benson) who flies George to the next stop in her biplane and to his astonishment George sees that Professor Scheriner is not only alive and well but is ace boon coons with Deveraux. Hilly assures him that everything is okay. Well, George is ready to chalk up the whole thing to an alcoholic dream until Bob Sweet reveals that he’s actually FBI Agent Stevens and they’ve been after Deveraux for a year ever since he engineered a plane crash in Germany that killed 100 people just to cover his ass. Then Sweet/Stevens is killed and George is once more forced to jump off the train but when he seeks helps to get back on again it’s with the assistance of professional thief Grover T. Muldoon (Richard Pryor) and here’s where my plot synopsis stops because I cannot believe that after all I’ve told you, you wouldn’t want to see this movie.

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I mean, c’mon. Just look at the cast: Gene Wilder. Richard Pryor. Both at the height of their popularity and creative powers. Jill Clayburgh has never been sexier than she is in this movie. The bad guy is fargin Patrick McGoohan and his henchmen are Ray Walston and Richard Kiel. Ned Beatty. Scatman Crothers. Valarie Curtin, Fred Willard, Lucille Benson, Len Birmen and Clifton James (in a role that just as well might be a cousin to J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies) all have major and significant supporting roles.

SILVER STREAK is essentially a riff on the Alfred Hitchcock notion of an innocent man getting caught up in a situation way above his head but discovering that he’s got talents and gifts he never knew he had to help him. And Gene Wilder does a really good job of being Cary Grant. While watching this movie today I was struck by two things: I never before noticed how handsome Gene Wilder truly was and how well he wore his clothes. He’s at the center of SILVER STREAK and he makes the movie work by never elevating George Caldwell to to status of superhero. George is a ordinary guy but he rises to whatever challenge he has to meet with strengths he didn’t know he possessed until he had to use them.

As for Richard Pryor…what can I say about Richard Pryor in this movie other than in my list of Top Ten Favorite Richard Pryor Movies SILVER STREAK would be in the Top Five. Just for a scene that he and Gene Wilder have. They’ve stolen a fire-engine red Jaguar and are racing to Kansas City to save Jill Clayburgh from the bad guys. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor simply talk about the situation they’re in and what they have to do to save her and beat the bad guy while that magnificent Henry Mancini music quietly plays behind their dialog. That scene right there to me is what the magic of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in their movie collaboration was. SILVER STREAK is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Stop reading this review and go watch it.

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114 Minutes

Rated PG

Hudson Hawk

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1991

Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures

Directed by Michael Lehmann

Produced by Joel Silver

Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza/Daniel Walters

Story by Bruce Willis/Robert Kraft

There are those that will insist that HUDSON HAWK is a failure, a flop and a misguided project doomed from the outset to failure. I strongly disagree. It is a movie that along with “Big Trouble In Little China” “The Last Dragon” “The Assassination Bureau” “Sunset” “The Man With The Iron Fists” “Action Jackson” “Shoot ‘Em Up” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is a movie that nobody knew what to make of it because they couldn’t figure out what genre it was. Was it a caper movie? Yes. Was it a spy thriller? Yes. Was it a comedy? Yes. Was it action-adventure? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whatever you want to throw in. HUDSON HAWK was all of those and more because like those other movies I named and much more besides it defined being put in a genre because the story took whatever it needed from whatever genre it wanted to, mixed in wonderful characters and then it hit the ground running at top speed and never stopped until the end credits. Long before the term was coined and before I even knew what it was, when I saw HUDSON HAWK in the theater back in 1991 I knew I was watching a New Pulp movie.

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Eddie Hawkins aka The Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is the world’s greatest cat burglar. That’s why on his first day out of prison after doing a dime, he’s blackmailed by his parole office and the Mario Brothers (not the ones you’re thinking of. These guys run a Mafia family). Along with his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) he pulls off the theft of the last commissioned work done by none other than Leonardo DaVinci, their individual tasks synchronized to the both of them singing “Swinging On A Star” at the exact same time. Yes, yes, I know how it sounds but if you’ve seen the movie I’m willing to bet that you’re grinning right now. Because the scene is impractical, silly, goofy and yet, you’re singing right along with Eddie and Tommy. Me, I admire a movie for having the audacity to even pull off such a notion. And what the hell, it’s downright FUN to watch.

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What gets Eddie interested in what is going on is that when he turns over the item he’s stolen to the Mario Brothers and their employer Alfred (Donald Burton) there’s an object inside which is desired by Alfred’s employers: Darwin and Minerva Mayweather (Richard E. Gant and Sandra Bernhard) who in a masterful comic performance always keep us an audience off guard as to what the hell these two whackos are going to do next. The object is also desired by CIA Director George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his ‘MTVIA’ Agents, all of whom are named after candy bars: Almond Joy (Lorraine Toussaint) Kit Kat (David Caruso) Snickers (Don Harvey) and Butterfinger (Andrew Bryniarsky) as well as by Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is a top operative for the Vatican’s own counter-espionage agency. Eddie is astounded to discover that the object was fabricated by none other than Leonardo DaVinci (Stefano Molinari who gets the best visual gag in the movie which also involves The Mona Lisa)

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The Mayweathers need Eddie to steal various DaVinci relics that will place in their possession the components of La Macchina dell’Oro. The last and greatest of DaVinci’s inventions. One that can turn lead into gold. The Mayweathers were supposed to be working with The Vatican and The CIA in this but oh those crazy kids decided to just go rogue and grab everything for themselves as they intend to use the power of La Macchina dell’Oro to control the world gold market. Hilarity ensues. As well as a lot of action and for me, at least, a fun movie.

My own personal theory as to why this movie wasn’t the hit it deserved to be back in 1991was that the year before, “Die Hard 2” completely blew all expectations to smithereens and made more money than the original. So people most likely went to the theater looking for something similar and simply didn’t know what to make of this goofy, pulp-inspired adventure. Moviegoers wanted to see more of John McClane or a character like him and just couldn’t get into this more laid back, less intense Bruce Willis who actually goes through most of the movie smiling and looking as if he’s having a great time.

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And for me, that’s one of the major pluses of HUDSON HAWK: everybody looks as if their having nothing but fun making this movie. David Caruso in particular stands out for me as he steals every scene he’s in without saying a word. Kit Kat communicates solely with business cards and by his wardrobe/costume in whatever scene he’s in. The chemistry between Willis and Aiello feels real and I could easily have seem them continue to play Eddie and Tommy in a Crosby/Hope style in future films. I love that is not only James Coburn in this movie but that sound effects and phone ringtones from his Derek Flint movies are used as well. “Bunny! Ball Ball!” The lush sets and gorgeous locations.

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Understand me, my intention is not to change your mind about HUDSON HAWK or indeed, any movie I review. It’s just for me to give you my insight as to why I like and/or love a particular movie and maybe intrigue and/or interest you enough to maybe want to see it for the first time or revisit it. HUDSON HAWK is one of those movies that everybody seems to either love or hate. You can put me firmly on the side of those who love it.

100 Minutes

Rated R