Silver Streak (film)

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This article is about the 1976 film. For the 1934 film, see The Silver Streak.
Silver Streak
Film poster
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[1]
Box office $51,079,064[2]

Silver Streak is a 1976 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 would later be paired in three more films.[3]


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.

George sees a dead body dangling outside the window of his 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 didn't 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 Scheiner, discredit the book that exposes Devereau for authenticating two forgeries as original Rembrandts. They find an envelope containing letters written by Rembrandt, proving Devereau's guilt. But then Reace kills Stevens and goes after George. Their fight ends on the roof, where George kills Reace but is knocked to the ground by an overhanging signal.

On foot again, George finds the local sheriff (James), but is accused of murdering Stevens. He escapes, stealing a patrol car which was transporting thief Grover T. Muldoon (Pryor). George and Grover work together to reach the train in Kansas City. Grover disguises George as a black man and they get by police and board the train.

George is captured but he and Hilly are rescued from Devereau's room by Grover, disguised as a steward. After a shootout, George and Grover jump off the train and are arrested and taken to a train station, where federal agent Donaldson (Birman) explains that he planted the Stevens murder story to protect George. Donaldson tells George that Devereau is already under suspicion in another case. George tells Donaldson about Devereau's plan, and Donaldson arranges for the train to be stopped by his men. Meanwhile, Devereau burns the Rembrandt letters.

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 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. Devereau's men had also disabled the emergency brakes. With the help of a steward (Crothers), 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 that had been displayed in the terminal and drives away, and George and Hilly leave together.



The film grossed over $51,000,000 at the box office during its run, and was well received by critics. Roger Ebert gave it a positive review, and it holds an 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

American Film Institute recognition


Colin Higgins later said the lead role was written for George Segal. He also claimed 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 back up. However, Pryor was very professional during the shoot.[6]

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 would later go on to make more films together: Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Another You.

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 (CPR) 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 Canada. The scene shows an old woman flying, it was actually a man and the actual owner of the plane at the time. 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 red-striped paint "Pac-Man" scheme. 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, one can clearly see a Canadian National Turbotrain with a red nose and white body boarding passengers. 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[edit]

Though the film dates to 1976, Henry Mancini's score was never officially released as a soundtrack. When Intrada Records released a compilation in 2002, it became one of the top special releases of 2002.[7]

  • "Main Title"
  • "Hilly's theme" (Jazz version)
  • "Runaway train"
  • "This Is Terrific"
  • "Something for Jill"
  • "Bye Bye Professor Lie Down George"
  • "On to Kansas (reprise of Hilly's Theme)" (instrumental version)
  • "Scenic Route" Source music (untitled)
  • "The Fun of Flying" (variation of Main theme)
  • "Club Car Rock"
  • "Sneaky George"
  • "I'll Try"
  • "Gold Teeth"
  • "Son of This Is Terrific"
  • "Pure Pussy"
  • "Scenic Route"
  • "Shoe Shine"
  • "Men's Room Rock"
  • "The Swirl Effect"
  • "End Title"


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p258
  2. ^ "Silver Streak, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  3. ^ Vincent Canby (1976-12-09). "'Silver Streak' Tarnishes on a Tiring Film Trip". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-19. 
  4. ^ Rotten Tomatoes: Silver Streak
  5. ^ "The 49th Academy Awards (1977) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-03. 
  6. ^ HIGGINS: WRITER-DIRECTOR ON HOT STREAK Goldstein, Patrick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 Jan 1981: b15.
  7. ^ Soundtracks of 2002

External links[edit]