Silver Streak (film)

This article is about the 1976 film. For the 1934 film, see The Silver Streak.
Silver Streak

Film poster, artwork by George Gross[1]
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Produced by Thomas Miller
Edward K. Milkis
Written by Colin Higgins
Starring Gene Wilder
Jill Clayburgh
Richard Pryor
Patrick McGoohan
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Edited by David Bretherton
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 8, 1976 (1976-12-08)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million[2]
Box office $51.1 million[3]

Silver Streak is a 1976 American comedy-thriller film about a murder on a Los Angeles-to-Chicago train journey. It was directed by Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, and Richard Pryor, with Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Clifton James, and Richard Kiel in supporting roles. The film score is by Henry Mancini. This film marked the first pairing of Wilder and Pryor, who were later paired in three more films.[4]


Book editor George Caldwell (Wilder) travels from Los Angeles to Chicago for his sister's wedding aboard a train called the Silver Streak. On board, George meets a vitamin salesman named Bob Sweet (Beatty) and a woman named Hilly Burns (Clayburgh). Hilly works for Professor Schreiner, a well-known art historian who is on a publicity tour for his new book about Rembrandt.

Hilly and George meet after George stumbles through the door of their adjoining rooms, catching her undressing. Later that evening, they have dinner and drinks together and then retire to her room for a night of romance. George sees a dead body dangling outside the window of the compartment and then falling away, but he is drunk and Hilly insists he must have imagined it. In the morning, he sees Schreiner's book with the author's photo, and realizes the professor was the dead man.

Schreiner's killers are Johnson (Gierasch), Edgar Whiney (Walston), and Reace (Kiel). George goes to Schreiner's room, and Reace throws him off the train. George meets a farmer (Benson) and they overtake the train in her biplane.

George sees Hilly with Johnson (who is impersonating Schreiner), Whiney, and art dealer Roger Devereau (McGoohan), who is holding Hilly as a secret hostage. Devereau apologizes to George for the "misunderstanding" involving Reace. After mentioning "the Rembrandt Letters," Johnson says he will return to his room for a glass of Scotch.

George goes to the club car and begins drinking heavily, confiding in Sweet about his misadventure. Sweet reveals himself as an undercover FBI agent named Stevens. He confirms George's suspicions: the real Schreiner did not drink alcohol. Devereau is a criminal who passes himself off as an art expert, and Whiney, Reace, and Johnson work for him. His plan is to have Johnson, disguised as Schreiner, discredit the book that exposes Devereau for authenticating two forgeries as original Rembrandts. They find an envelope containing letters written by Rembrandt that prove Devereau's guilt. Stevens then warns George that he could be killed by Devereau, too, because he told Devereau that Schreiner was murdered; but then Reace kills Stevens, who he thought was George. A conductor (Crothers) enters George's room and sees Stevens' body and George holding Stevens' gun, and thinks George killed Stevens. Reace finds George and chases him all over the train – first inside and then on top. When Reace is about to shoot George, he is impaled by George with a spear gun, then dropped down into the mountains; George is then knocked off the train again by an overhead signal.

On foot once again, George finds the local sheriff (James) and tells him about Devereau's men killing Schreiner and Stevens. Then the sheriff gets a phone call about George killing Stevens. The sheriff tells George that the police are after him for the murder of Stevens, but George escapes and steals the sheriff's car, which was transporting thief Grover T. Muldoon (Pryor). George and Grover work together to reach the train in Kansas City. When they get to the train station, they see that police are looking for George, so Grover disguises George as a black man and they get by the police and board the train. Back on the train, George learns that Devereau must get off not in Chicago, but in Rockdale, instead. George is captured, but he and Hilly are rescued from Devereau's room by Grover, who is disguised as a steward. After a shootout, George and Grover jump off the train, are arrested by the police and taken to a train station. There they meet federal agent Donaldson (Birman), who tells them that he and the police knew all along that George did not kill Stevens. Donaldson sent police to Dodge City to pick up George for protection and Donaldson invented the news story about Stevens' murder. Donaldson tells George that Devereau is already under suspicion in another case. George tells Donaldson about Devereau's plan and that Devereau is getting off the train in Rockdale. Donaldson has to stop the train before Devereau's stop in Rockdale, and plans an attack on the train with George, Grover, and his men. He calls the engineer and tells him to stop at a junction and get all of the passengers off the train. Once the train has stopped and the passengers are off, another shootout ensues. George boards the train a fourth time, with Grover, as Devereau climbs onto the locomotive and orders the engineer to start it moving. An agent shoots Whiney, George shoots Johnson, and Devereau shoots the engineer and places a toolbox on the dead man's brake pedal. Devereau is then shot by Donaldson, falls halfway out of the engine cabin, and is decapitated by an oncoming freight train.

Devereau and his men are gone, but with no one alive on the locomotive and the pedal depressed, the train is now a runaway. To make matters more dire, Devereau's men had also disabled the emergency brakes. With the help of the porter, George uncouples the passenger cars from the engine. The engine smashes through the end-of-track barrier and into the terminal, spectacularly destroying everything in its path. In the confused aftermath, Grover steals a sports car on display in the terminal and drives away, and George and Hilly leave together.



The film grossed over $51 million at the box office and was praised by critics, including Roger Ebert. It maintains an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, however, called the film "a needlessly convoluted mystery yarn, which calls everyone's identity into question except Wilder's." Siskel, who gave the film just two stars, added that "the story isn't easy to follow" and that "I'm still not sure whether Clayburgh's character, secretary to Devereaux, was in on the hustle from the beginning."[6]

Awards and honors


Colin Higgins had said that the lead role was written for George Segal. He also stated the producers did not want Richard Pryor cast because Pryor had recently walked off The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings; he says the producer at one stage considered casting another black actor as a backup. However, Pryor was very professional during the shoot.[9]

The film was the first collaboration between Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Pryor was a writer, and the original choice for "Black Bart" in the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles, which also starred Wilder. The two later went on to make Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Another You together.

Although set in the United States on the fictional railroad "AMRoad" (loosely based on Amtrak), Silver Streak was filmed primarily in Canada (with the exception of Union Station in Los Angeles). All exterior train shots were filmed on the Canadian Pacific Railway in Alyth Yard, Calgary, Alberta, and Toronto; Amtrak reportedly backed out of the project due to disapproval of the scenes in which Caldwell accidentally bursts into Burns' bedroom while she is dressing, and the film's ending with the out-of-control train crashing through the terminal in Chicago.

The scene with a de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane being flown to catch up with the train was shot in southern Alberta. The scene shows an old woman flying; it was actually the current owner of the plane, a man. The plane was painted with a water-soluble "silver" paint to cover its original colors—white overall, with an orange strip down the sides and orange leading edges.

Scenes of Midwestern US landscapes appear behind train layouts and many action shots (as the protagonist and allies battle the villains on and off the train, and get thrown off or jump on and off the moving trains) to add narrative integrity to the fictional location. Most of the interior station scenes set both in Kansas City and Chicago actually show different parts of Toronto's Union Station, except for a brief sequence immediately prior to the crash, where the train is rapidly approaching a bumper at the end of the line. That sequence was filmed from a Hi-Rail truck entering the Chicago and North Western Railway's downtown Chicago terminal.

The train set was so lightly disguised as the fictional "AMRoad" that the locomotives and cars still carried their original names and numbers, along with the easily identifiable CPR Action Red paint scheme, as well as the CP "Multimark" logo. At the start of the climactic shootout, a CPR EMD switcher is seen moving cars in the background. As the train enters the "Chicago" platform area, a Canadian National Turbotrain with a red nose and white body boarding passengers is clearly visible. Most of the cars are still in revenue service on Via Rail. CP 4070, the lead locomotive, is in Quebec, though long out of service, and the second unit, CP 4067, has been scrapped.

Score and soundtrack

Though the film dates to 1976, Henry Mancini's score was never officially released as a soundtrack. Intrada Records's 2002 compilation became one of the year's best-selling special releases.[10]


  1. "Internet Movie Poster Awards: Silver Streak". IMP Awards. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  2. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p258
  3. "Silver Streak, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  4. Vincent Canby (1976-12-09). "'Silver Streak' Tarnishes on a Tiring Film Trip". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  5. Rotten Tomatoes: Silver Streak
  6. Wilder, Gene (December 23, 1976). "Plot derails murky 'Silver Streak'". Chicago Tribune. p. 1.
  7. "The 49th Academy Awards (1977) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-03.
  8. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  9. HIGGINS: WRITER-DIRECTOR ON HOT STREAK Goldstein, Patrick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 Jan 1981: b15.
  10. Soundtracks of 2002

External links

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