In 1976, one of the biggest comedy hits of the year was Silver Streak, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, but whether the film would be as big a hit today is another question altogether.
Pryor stole Streak right from under Wilder, and it was the film that propelled Pryor from being a popular movie co-star to a bona fide A-list movie star.
In the film, which was a spoof of Hitchcock films, Wilder plays a mild mannered ordinary guy on a train trip who witnesses a murder and finds himself being chased by bad guys who want him dead, and the police, who want him for murder, on and off the train.
Of course, no one believes him, except for a woman and romantic interest whom he meets (Jill Clayburgh), and a thief played by Pryor, who helps him reveal the big conspiracy behind it all - the bad guys and the police.
As films go, it’s pretty routine with other comedy thrillers of the period, such as Foul Play, but one of the scenes in the movie that set it apart, aside from the scene where Pryor turns the tables on the bad guys, and the big spectacular action climax, was the moment where Pryor helps Wilder avoid the police by disguising him in blackface to sneak past the cops.
It was the scene that people talked about at the time as
the comedy highlight of the film. And maybe it was funny then, but looking at
it now, it’s rather grisly and painfully awkward to watch. I suspect the scene
wouldn’t play so well if it was in a movie today.
Times have changed, and so have attitudes. People are now too critical (definitely a good thing) and aware. Look at Paula Deen still scrambling to save her empire while losing business and endorsement deals every day.
Now you could make the argument that the entire sequence in Streak was conceived to actually mock and invert the whole concert of blackface, turning it on its head, and white people’s perception of black people and our behavior. But you could also say that it does so in a rather clumsy way.
And of course, having Pryor in the scene playing the character who comes up with the idea, and who tries to teach Wilder how to “be black,” makes it O.K. to laugh. If Pryor has no problem with the scene, why should we?
Or are we being too sensitive? A joke is joke, so why are we being so sensitive. “Why do we have to be so serious all the time?” I can already hear people saying. Why not I say?
All this leads to the fact that the film is coming out on Blu-ray on Aug 6 through Anchor Bay/Starz Home Video.
But are you dying to see it again?
Here’s the trailer: