Tag: Wilder

MOVIE REVIEW | Stir Crazy (1980)

It opens cutting between two scenes.  Gene Wilder, as Skip Donahue, is a struggling play write working as a department store security guard, gleefully accusing a woman of being a shoplifter who is naked her under overcoat.  Richard Pryor, as Harry Monroe, is a struggling actor working as a waiter at a swanky party where the cook mistakenly uses his stash of high end weed instead of oregano.  Cut to the two of them in a bar, they’re best friends and they’ve both just been fired from their jobs.  Wilder decides it’s a sign, they’re finally free to get out of New York… 1980 New York, where it’s every man for himself.  So they hit the road for California.

On their way, they take a job in Arizona dressing up as woodpeckers in a bank to sing and dance for customers.  While Wilder and Pryor are on their lunch break one day, some crooks steal the costumes and do the act before robbing the bank.  So of course, Wilder and Pryor are immediately arrested for the robbery.

This leads to a typical 80s racial gag when the two first arrive in jail.  All of a sudden, Pryor gets a certain swagger to his walk and ups the jive in the way he speaks, “You gotta be bad, jack.  Coz if you aint’ bad, you gonna get fucked.  Hey homes, get down”.  It in no ways rivals the uncomfortable black face of Silver Streak, but it really is a moment that would have only happened in a movie made in 1980.

Through comedy writing convenience, they’re sentenced to more than 100 years each in prison.   In keeping with the racial sensitivity displayed by Pryor’s ghetto act earlier, they are appointed a nebbishly Jewish lawyer who comes complete with all the cliched boxes ticked.  There’s also the odd gay joke, treated with the kind of open mindedness the 80s were so famous for.

Once they get to big boy prison, the story revolves around an inter-prison system rodeo competition.  Just let that sink in for a second.  The major plot point for the second half of this movie is about two prison wardens making their inmates compete against each other in a rodeo.

Wilder and Pryor really do prove themselves to be an awesome comedy duo.  Their timing is in absolute perfect sync, the physical gags they pull of together are all executed with pinpoint precision and every joke is built around each working to their individual strengths.

One thing confused me though.  The movie’s called Stir Crazy.  Wilder and Pryor both do countless batshit insane things.  Yet the actual state of their mental health is never really addressed.  Are they actually nuts, or are they just two regular dudes freaking out because they’re in prison.  Luckily, pretty much every single freak out is hilarious enough that I don’t really care.

Stir Crazy really is the anti-Silver Streak.  Where the latter built a convoluted story complete with predictable love interest, then tried to ad a joke in here and there, the former is nothing but wall to wall jokes, sketches and physical set pieces, with a bare bones story simply there to link them together.  But when the jokes, sketches and physical set pieces are this funny, a bare bones story linking them together is all you need.

Stir Crazy
Directed By – Sidney Portier
Written By – Bruce Jay Friedman

MOVIE REVIEW | The Lost Weekend (1945)


Ever get worried that you’re too happy?  That life is too good?  That your future is too bright?  If you ever think your mood needs to be taken down a notch and that a quick injection of depression is required, The Lost Weekend is the movie for you.  If you really want to get crazy with the bring downs, make it a double feature with Days of Wine and Roses.  Bugger it, go all the way, triple bill those two bring downs with Leaving Las Vegas, then get ready for a night of cold sweats and deep regrets, even if you’ve never touched a drop.

Yep, The Lost Weekend is another delightful romp into the world of alcoholism.  And not the fun kind of alcoholism like Burt Reynold’s character hiding booze in a lamp shade in Smokey and the Bandit II.  But the full blown, balls to the wall, depressing kind of alcoholism, like Ray Millan’s character hiding booze in a lamp shade in The Lost Weekend.  Strap yourself in, because while this is a pretty amazing movie, it’s not pretty.

One thing that really stood out to me about The Lost Weekend is that it’s not a story about a man’s descent into alcoholism.  Ray Millan’s Don Birnam has already hit rock bottom before the opening scene is set.  His brother and girlfriend are helping him pack for a weekend of drying out in the country.  Even as the shot ripples and fades into a flashback, the movie still resists telling the origins of his problem.  Instead, it tells the origin of his relationship with his girlfriend Helen St James, played by Jane Wyman.  When they meet, he’s already well and truly in the bottle.

Directed by Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend was his first big Academy Awards success, bagging four Oscars.  Before this, Wilder had made Double Indemnity and would go on to make classics like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment.  And while they all have their own feeling of darkness (Some Like it Hot accepted), The Lost Weekend really did stand out to me as one of his most intimately dark stories.  Rarely widening the story beyond central character Don Birnam, his girlfriend and his brother, Wilder somehow creates a grand, high stakes feeling out of a really small story.

Set in New York, with all exteriors shot there, this is a great look at the city, and life in general, almost seventy years ago.  It also leads to one of the very few off notes in The Lost Weekend.  A struggling writer, Millan attempts to pawn his typewriter for booze money.  In a conversation with a Jewish dude, it’s revealed every pawn shop in New York is owned by Jews or Irishmen.  I don’t know if this is accurate to the period or a lazy stereotype on the part of Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett, but watching it in 2013, the exchange really jumped out at me in a not so good way.

The other minor problem I have with The Lost Weekend is the overly tidy, convenient ending.  After seeing Millan go through so much and sink so low, the conclusion comes a little too suddenly.  And while it doesn’t necessarily give away what his future holds, I thought it made it a little too definite.  With a character as complex as Don Birnam, I could have done with just a bit more grey area in his final minutes.

Watch the full movie, streaming for free HERE
Directed By – Billy Wilder
Written By – Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder