Back in 1976, Gene Wilder starred alongside Jill Clayburgh in Silver Streak, an action comedy directed by Arthur Hiller set on a moving train. The film was a box-office success and was significant for being the very first on-screen collaboration between Wilder and Richard Pryor.
If you're expecting another Stir Crazy, however, don't because you're setting yourself up for disappointment as Pryor doesn't really enter the picture until about halfway through. The film isn't quite the farce you'd expect considering the always hilarious Wilder/Pryor duo so anyone going back to check this film out might be surprised to find that Silver Streak is, in fact, a surprisingly sophisticated comedy with a Hitchcockian tone. Which is not to say that the film isn't funny, quite the opposite. Gene Wilder is excellent from start to finish nailing both the dramatic, romantic scenes and the goofier moments which begs the question: why no Academy Award nomination? The film opens slow but even when it's at its most laid back it's still witty enough to keep you entertained until poor old George Caldwell (Wilder) is kicked off the train for the first of many times.
The central romance is mainly developed during the first half hour as George meets Hilly Burns (Clayburgh) and they hit it off right away. All goes well until George witnesses the murder of a random passenger. After confronting one of the bad guys, George is soon thrown out of the train by none other than Jaws from the Bond movies (Richard Kiel) and we follow him as he repeatedly attempts to get back onboard the Silver Streak. Staying on the train proves more difficult than anticipated as the villains' plans change gradually and George keeps being discarded thereby putting Hilly in danger. Eventually, he meets sympathetic thief Grover (Pryor) who chooses to believe his nutty-sounding story and help him out.
Due to the start-and-stop nature of the story, the pacing of Silver Streak can be a little off-putting but stick with it and you'll no doubt be glad you did. This is actually an effective action film with some impressive stunts and clever twists and turns but it also works as a comedy thanks to the razor-sharp script and strong performance all around. Even the side characters are played by reliable actors like the ever-intimidating Patrick McGoohan, Ray Walston and Ned Beatty. And, against all odds, a controversial scene in which Grover gets George to use shoe polish in order to pass off as an African American to re-board the train anonymously somehow works: that's skilful writing right there. If I were to nitpick, I'd say that maybe too long is spent establishing George and Hilly's relationship when we really don't see the latter a whole lot after that which is a shame since she was an interesting character who could have probably contributed more to the story.
Again, don't expect a laugh riot from Silver Streak, think more North By Northwest in terms of overall tone. This is a terrific suspense movie with some very funny moments but also some thrilling action scenes and a Gene Wilder on top form so this is a train ride that's well worth the ticket.