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

Force 10 From Navarone

1978

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written by Robin Chapman and Carl Foreman
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE catches the attention right away with the rousing theme song by Ron Goodwin, which is a stirring, heart-pumping military march in the style of John Williams’s classic “Raiders of The Lost Ark” march or his theme for “1941” and when I saw the cast, I quickly grabbed some goodies and settled in to see just what this was going to be about.

First off, a lot of the cast looks like this film was an excuse to have a reunion for actors who have all at one time co-starred in James Bond films. You’ve got Robert Shaw who played the assassin Red Grant in “From Russia With Love.” Barbara Bach aka Agent Triple X from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Richard Kiel, the steel-toothed Jaws from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” and Edward Fox who played M in Sean Connery’s comeback Bond movie, “Never Say Never Again.” And the director is none other than Guy Hamilton who helmed 4 Bond movies; “Live And Let Die”, “The Man With The Golden Gun”, “Goldfinger” and my favorite James Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever” Hamilton also directed one of the best and least appreciated action/adventure movies of all time: “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begin”

So with a crew like that, plus Harrison Ford and Carl Weathers, I figured that the movie had to be pretty good and I was right. Oh, sure, it’s got plot holes big enough to throw a tank through and there are some slow spots where the characters stand around explaining things we already know, but on the whole, I had a great time watching this movie. If you like World War II action/adventures like “Kelly’s Heroes”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Dirty Dozen” then you’ll be right at home with this one.

Even though it’s supposed to be a sequel to the classic Gregory Peck/David Niven/Anthony Quinn “The Guns of Navarone”, that earlier mission is hardly referred to. Harrison Ford is an American colonel heading to Yugoslavia with his ten-man team on a top secret mission (is there any other in movies like this?) and he is ordered to take along Shaw and Fox who have their own mission to accomplish. Ford doesn’t like it a bit but orders are orders and all that.

While Ford and his team steal an airplane for transport (it’s all part of the plan, don’t worry) they pick up Carl Weathers in a convoluted bit of plot twisting to enable a black man to be part of the team since the Armed Forces were still segregated at the time of WWII. It’s an awkward scene that eats up valuable screen time and reminded me of those scenes from early Schwarzenegger and Van Damme movies where the writers felt they had to stick in a scene to explain why Schwarzenegger and Van Damme were living in the U.S. but had Austrian and Belgian accents. Which I found really pointless since I live in New York and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody with an accent.

Right from the start, the mission is screwed and Ford’s team is wiped out leaving him with Shaw, Fox and Weathers to help him complete his mission: blow up a strategically important bridge that can’t be blown. Three previous teams tried and were all wiped out. Shaw makes a deal with Ford: help me do my mission and I’ll help you do yours. Ford isn’t too sure about this since Shaw’s mission is to assassinate a traitor who nearly wrecked the Navarone mission but Shaw’s got an ace up his sleeve: Fox’s character is the top demolition man in Europe (maybe in the world) and Shaw assures him that Fox alone can do what Ford’s ten men were supposed to do. So the deal is struck and the four set off on their adventure.

And quite the adventure it is. The movie is nothing but a series of fights, chases, captures and escapes. The four-man team is constantly being captured and betrayed by various characters that are rarely what they seem at first. It’s like everybody in this movie is a double or even triple agent and everything possible that can go wrong does. They have to fight their way in and out of Nazi strongholds, sneak into munitions depots to steal explosives, bargain with Yugoslavian freedom fighters who change sides at the drop of a shell casing, all the while trying to find out who the traitor Shaw is supposed to kill is and who he’s really working for. And after all that is done they still have to blow that damn bridge.

While the acting is nowhere near Oscar caliber, the cast and the director are all old hands at this kinda stuff and they all turn in serviceable acting jobs that support the material and genre they’re working in and no more. Nobody’s trying to win any awards with this one, and they all seem to be having a great time except for Harrison Ford who reportedly hated working on location in Yugoslavia, which probably accounts for the pissed-off scowl which is his main expression throughout the film. But I liked seeing the young, energetic Ford again and this movie will remind you why at one time he was the top action star in the world and his acting inexperience (this was his first major Hollywood film after a little thing he did called “Star Wars”) actually works since his Lt. Colonel Barnsby is an inexperienced field commander who is in way over his head and doesn’t want to admit it.

Robert Shaw and Edward Fox are the real acting stars of this movie and I liked the easy rapport they had. They quickly convinced me they were two solid friends who have worked together for a while now who like and respect each other. They bark and bite at each other like an old married couple that bicker and fuss in a manner that makes everybody around them crazy but who work splendidly well together.   They have all the best lines in the movie as they calmly comment on and criticize the frantic action going on around them in their droll, reserved British manner.  Shaw in particular has a beautiful piece of creative bullshit when he convinces a Nazi general who’s captured them that the Force 10 Team are all actually deserters.  Fox picks up on what his partner’s about and effortlessly continues the line of bull. Watch Ford’s expressions during the scene as he struggles to try and keep up with the two old pros who were talking their way out of Nazi traps when he was still in basic training.

Carl Weathers is a criminally underrated actor. He’s done some splendid work in films like “Predator”, the Rocky series and the off-the-hook “Action Jackson” (and I’m still waiting on the sequel to that one, dammit!) as well as television series like In “The Heat Of The Night” and “Fortune Dane”. He primarily works here as a way for the other characters to have a way to explain things that they already know without looking stupid, since Weather’s character has no idea what he was getting into when he stowed away aboard their plane but he’s got some good scenes and a nice little knife fight with Richard Kiel near the movie’s end.

So should you see FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE?  Sure you should.  It’s a highly enjoyable WWII adventure that’s just right for a Saturday afternoon and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all. Don’t strain too hard trying to make sense of the many twists and turns of the plot and just enjoy the action on the screen and those wonderful Fox and Shaw performances.

118 Minutes
Rated PG-13