Stir Crazy

June is no longer Non-Alliterative Silver Screen Classic Movie Month!

Stir Crazy. Columbia Pictures Corporation 1980.

Before watching the movie:

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor (whom I’ve only seen together in one other movie) get thrown in jail for a crime they didn’t commit. Comedy ensues. Escaping? Surviving? I’m expecting both. Other than that, I’m not sure what’s going to happen, because the last time I saw them together, they were playing blind and deaf, which seems like it would make a big difference.

After watching the movie:

Struggling New York theater friends Skip and Harry get fired from their day jobs on the same day, which Skip decides is a sign they should move somewhere brighter and friendlier. Ending up in Arizona, they find work as singing, dancing mascots for a bank, which makes them ripe for a frame-up by a couple of bank robbers. Railroaded through court, they find themselves in jail. When the warden discovers that Skip has an uncanny talent for bull riding, he thinks he’s found a ringer for the annual prison rodeo to beat his rival and win his way out of debt. Skip and Harry and their inmate friends hatch a plan to use the rodeo as a means of escape.

As far as the characters go, they’re basically the same characters Wilder and Pryor always play. Wilder’s on the more extreme end of naive, to the point that sometimes I wonder how they got to be friends. It’s clear they’re still together partly because Harry doesn’t want to let Skip get too hurt, but it would have been nice (albeit made for a slower movie) to have at least heard, if not seen, how they met. On the other hand, I do appreciate that they’re already friends, because that means the plot doesn’t have to get bogged down in them figuring each other out. They already know each other, and they’re stuck together.

One odd thing about the writing is that there comes a point where the humor shifts from coming from Skip being Wilder’s brand of naive and Harry being the world-wise straight man, to Skip being more clever than you’d expect and Harry being… not around much. That said, the funniest moments for me come from one being without the other. Skip, separated from Harry, seems to seriously find a way to enjoy the torture being doled out to pressure him into competing in the rodeo. Harry, separated from Skip, being told how much more dangerous being a rodeo clown is than what he thought he signed up for.

This movie does a good job being funny, and a fair job keeping the audience from thinking about the horror of being framed and stuck in a corrupt prison where everything short of nightly beatings are allowed. The end didn’t do as well at keeping my mind off the unfortunate implications, but happy endings are happy endings, right?


Watch this movie: Because it’s funny, and has a surprising amount of southwestern-ness.

Don’t watch this movie: for the bird costumes. Way overblown.

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