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Planes are too risky, and cars are too slow,
And don’t get me started on cruises and ships.
It seems that the safest conveyance for trips
Is travel by train; ‘tis the best way to go.

The scenery passes in hurtling flashes,
And movies have proven how romance can bloom.
But murderers too ride the train, I assume,
And safety is sometimes as rare as a crash is.

If you beware of endangered females
And manage to somehow remain on your train
Or if you fall off, to get on it again,
Then maybe your travels won’t go off the rails.

MPAA rating: PG (should be PG-13 for innuendo and language)

In honor of the late Gene Wilder, I thought I’d review one of my VC’s favorite films of his. Murder on a train has certainly been seen before, like in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, but Silver Streak two years later milks the concept for sheer entertainment rather than mystery. Wilder plays George Caldwell, an editor in search of the boredom of riding a train, who meets his flirty room neighbor Hilly (Jill Clayburgh) and shares some garden-related pillow talk with her. And then a dead body appears outside the window. Talk about a mood killer.

Wilder isn’t quite as neurotic as his Leo Bloom in The Producers, but he’s likably nervous while he uncovers the conspiracy on board the Silver Streak, which connects L.A. and Chicago. There are shoot-outs and FBI agents and hidden evidence and a spear gun, and even if the plot gets a bit convoluted, the intrigue never falters.

The humor tends to stick with innuendo and mild amusement, that is, until Richard Pryor as the helpful criminal Grover joins the party. Silver Streak was the first partnership between Wilder and Pryor, and while I haven’t seen their other films together, they were no doubt striving to recreate the buddy chemistry on display here. There’s no real depth in their relationship, no moment of bonding, but they get along so well that it’s not needed. Their black-and-white appeal delivers some of the best moments, such as Wilder’s attempt at acting black to avoid the police.

The rest of the cast also get their memorable moments, including Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers, Patrick McGoohan, Clifton James, Ray Walston, and Richard Kiel, playing a metal-toothed thug a year before he played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the big unstoppable climax, which has been echoed in other train scenes like that in Hugo. While it’s not the best or funniest of Gene Wilder’s films (those would be Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein for me), Silver Streak is an entertaining ride combining the American countryside, conspiratorial mystery, excellent casting, and a reminder of its star’s inimitable talent. RIP Gene Wilder.

Best line: (Grover) “I’m a thief!”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2016 S. G. Liput
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