Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Silver Streak (1976)

Murder on the Comedy Express

With the usually impressive Gene Wilder heading a cast that also includes Ned Beatty, Jill Clayburgh and Richard Pryor, in what was technically the first Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor movie, you sort of expect "Silver Streak" to be a daft comedy riot. Well much of it is in fact daft yet for me "Silver Streak" ends up not really that funny or not to the point that I found myself in fits of uncontrollable laughter and wanting to watch it again.

Having decided to travel from Los Angeles to Chicago by train, book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder - Young Frankenstein) finds himself in the thick of things when having hooked up with another beautiful passenger, Hilly (Jill Clayburgh - Love and Other Drugs), believes he has seen a dead man, who happens to be her boss, being thrown from the train. With no one believing him, except the bad guys who committed the murder he finds himself being thrown of the train and forced to prove his innocence when the Police start investigating him whilst he also tries to get back on the train to stop the bad guys from any more murders.

Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh in Silver Streak (1976)

The thing is that at its heart "Silver Streak" is a thriller, but one which for one reason or another is trying to be a comedy. Now a comedy thriller can work when the comedy takes on a dark undertone or all out slapstick, but not in the case here where the majority of the jokes are obvious, a little timid and in no ways dark. Humour surrounding Wilder's character Caldwell being a book editor who has edited a few sex books but prefers gardening books falls flat on its face as do the gags when Richard Pryor makes his appearance a long way into the movie. Maybe in the mid 70s when this was released the humour was fresh and funny but now just comes across a little lame.

As for the actual storyline, well despite technically being a thriller it is not in the least bit thrilling, which is down to it trying to be funny. This also has the knock on effect of making it ending up a little too daft. The big issue is that it's not overly interesting, it's impossible to get wrapped up in any intrigue because there really isn't any and the humour doesn't keep you glued to the goings on either. But then "Silver Streak" isn't trying to be some classy, complex thriller full of atmosphere, it's trying to be funny, trying being the operative word.

Performance wise it is also a bit disappointing with Gene Wilder struggling to be the central character or at least one which keeps us interested. It often feels like he is being restrained, shackled to a script, rather that having his normal flair for fun characterisations. Plus it's pretty hard to think of Wilder as being sexy causing those bedroom scenes with Jill Clayburgh to feel a little too uneasy, maybe that was the intention having Wilder as an unlikely sex symbol but it doesn't come across as being that funny.

Others fare little better, with Ned Beatty as well as Richard Pryor coming across as being just as restrained as Wilder. As for Jill Clayburgh as Hilly Burns, well she does her best with a stereotypical, underused 1 dimensional character but never makes any major impact.

What this all boils down to is that "Silver Streak" may have been good when it originally came out but now feels a little disappointing. The problem is that it's all a little bit dull; the comedy fails to really raise anything more than a smile and is not dark enough to be in tune with the supposedly thrilling storyline. Even Gene Wilder seems a little dull and appears to be going through the motions rather than delivering a truly funny performance which we are more accustomed to.