Film / Silver Streak

"Getting on the Silver Streak is easy. Staying on is the problem."

A 1976 comedy/action/mystery film directed by Arthur Hiller, written by Colin Higgins, and starring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, and Richard Pryor.

George Caldwell (Wilder) is a book editor traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago via a passenger train nicknamed the "Silver Streak". On board, he meets a vitamin salesman named Bob Sweet (Ned Beatty) and a secretary named Hilly Burns (Clayburgh), whom he quickly romances.

While trying to get intimate with Hilly, George sees the body of Hilly's employer, Professor Schreiner, falling off the roof. When George attempts to investigate, he too is thrown off the train. He eventually makes his way back on the train, and tells Bob Sweet what happened. Sweet reveals that he's actually an FBI agent who's been tailing international art dealer, Roger Devereau (Patrick McGoohan), and believes that he's the one responsible for Schreiner's death. Schreiner's new book on Rembrandt would have exposed several of Devereau's prized pieces as frauds. However, Devereau's henchmen kill Sweet, and attempt to kill George who escapes the train, hoping to inform the authorities. Unfortunately, Devereau has already framed George for Sweet's death. He is able to evade the police with the aid of a thief named Grover T. Muldoon (Pryor), and must find a way back aboard the Silver Streak and rescue Hilly.

This was the first of four films that Wilder and Pryor appeared in together.

Tropes seen in Silver Streak:

  • Berserk Button: Grover's reaction to Devereau dropping the N-Bomb on him... priceless!
  • Blood from the Mouth: Bob Sweet after being shot dies this way while talking to George.
  • Book Ends: Provided by the train porter, Ralston:
    "Goodbye, L.A., goodbye!"
    "Hello, Chicago, hello!"
  • Chess Master: Devereau certainly fancies himself as one, although his supposed mastery is mostly one Indy Ploy after another. Bob Sweet (a.k.a. Agent Stevens) is also a Chess Master, of the Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass variety.
  • Clear My Name: As if George didn't have enough to worry about, he's framed for Sweet's murder.
  • Cool Car: The Jaguar XK-E that Grover steals from the used car lot, and the Fiat he liberates after the Union Station crash at the end.
    George: Are you crazy? I thought we were gonna take the Chevy in the back?
    Grover: Chevy? That's a jerk-off, man! This here is pure pussy!
    George: "Pure pussy"? Tell that to the judge!
  • Cool Old Lady: Lucille Benson (who specialized in that kind of role) as the crop-duster pilot who gives George a lift after he's ejected from the train the first time.
  • Deadfoot Leadfoot: Devereau is killed after taking over the train, but unfortunately there's still a heavy toolbox sitting on the gas.
  • Fictional Counterpart: AMRoad, for Amtrak. The "Silver Streak" itself is presumably based on Amtrak's "Southwest Chief" train (though the train scenes were actually filmed using the thinly disguised Canadian Pacific Railway "Canadian").
  • Giant Mook: Reace, played by Richard Kiel.
  • Henry Mancini: Provided the music score.
  • Hidden Depths: Bob Sweet, who at first seems to be a womanizing buffoon, is actually an undercover government agent chasing the Big Bad. In fact, given his first conversation with George, he may even be the Chess Master.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Grover, a car thief that George encounters and helps free from arrest about halfway through the film, goes out of his way to help George rescue Hilly instead of simply thinking about his own freedom.
  • Low Clearance: George is knocked off the top of the train by a signal light.
  • Magic Brakes: Surprisingly accurate: uncoupling the cars causes the air lines to break, thus setting off the emergency brakes.
  • Police Are Useless: George's efforts to explain Devereau's plot to The Sheriff prove ineffective.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Devereau drops the N-bomb on Grover.
  • Rule of Three: George is thrown off the train three times. Each time he expresses his frustration with a loud "SONOFABITCH!!!"
  • Runaway Train: Devereau has his men disable the brakes, as they prepare their escape.
  • Salt and Pepper: George and Grover.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: The police are looking for George, so Grover buys some shoe polish from a shoeshiner at a stand at the train station to use to disguise him as a black man.
  • Spiritual Successor: To North By Northwest, which this film's director (Arthur Hiller) and screenwriter (Colin Higgins) admired.
  • This Is Reality: George is surprised as to how quickly a gun runs out of bullets.
    • Grover also asks George "What do think this is, a Western?"
  • Thriller on the Express: The plot doesn't get confined to the train all the time but most is there and the events on the train generate the reasons for George not having anywhere else to go.
  • Toronto Doubling: Many of the railroad station scenes (supposedly Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Chicago) were actually filmed in various parts of Union Station in Toronto. Also, Alberta stands in for the Midwest in several places.
  • Traintop Battle: George has one of these against Reace about halfway through the film. (Footage from the scene, with Wilder - or rather his stunt double - dangling from an overhead railroad signal, was later incorporated into the opening credits of The Fall Guy.)
  • The Windy City