Silver Streak – tape 4

I’m not sure why I really like Silver Streak, but I do. I first saw it when on holiday in Galway, the year we stayed at our aunt and uncle’s house, who had a video recorder, and Silver Streak was one of the films they had recorded. I wonder if there’s a bit of nostalgia working.

Gene Wilder is travelling across country on a train, The Silver Streak. It’s populated with some interesting characters, and great actors.

Here’s Ned Beatty, as a sleazy businessman who likes to pick up women on the journey. “I tell my boss I’m afraid of flying and I get this action twice a year.”

Ned Beatty

He meets Jill Clayburgh, who shares the adjoining compartment, and they hit it off.

Jill Clayburgh

But while he’s romancing Ms Clayburgh, some shifty looking characters are beating someone up elsewhere on the train. And while he tries to find his way back to his carriage, he glimpses Patrick McGoohan, another passenger.

Patrick McGoohan

And when he’s with Clayburgh in their compartment, he sees a man hanging from the roof of the train, shot through the head. But he’s suddenly very woozy, possibly from champagne, so they sleep.

The next morning, he recognises a picture of Clayburgh’s boss, Professor Scheiner, as the man he saw, and when he goes to find if he’s OK, he gets thrown out of the train by none other than Richard Kiel.

Richard Kiel in Silver Streak

With the help of a farmer with a plane, he catches up with the train, and manages to get on before it leaves. But Clayburgh is now with McGoohan, who apologises to Wilder, because it was one of his men who threw him off the train. Then, Professor Schreiner turns up, not dead. Clayburgh doesn’t say much.

So Wilder drowns his sorrows, and Beatty turns up, interested in his story. Very interested. He’s not a salesman after all, but a federal agent, tracking McGoohan. He believes the Professor’s new book would prove two Rembrandts, which were verified as genuine by McGoohan, so he wants to get his hands on the Professor’s proof.

But, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as they find the proof, hidden in one of Clayburgh’s books, someone shoots Beatty, and Wilder is discovered next to the corpse by conductor Scatman Crothers.

Scatman Crothers

He’s pursued across the roof of the train by Richard Kiel, who he then kills by shooting him with a harpoon gun.

Then he falls off the train again.

He finds his way to a local small town sheriff, and tries to explain what’s happened, only to discover he’s suspected of murdering Ned Beatty. He manages to steal a police car (good thing it was a comedy sheriff he went to) and in the back of the car is none other than Richard Pryor, who’d just been arrested. This film is halfway over, and they’ve only just introduced Richard Pryor.

Somehow, they catch up with the train at a station – I guess American trains don’t actually travel very fast – and have to buy a ticket – difficult when the station is teeming with policemen.

Don’t worry, though, Pryor has a plan. He gets Wilder to black up.

Gene Wilder blacks up

But almost as soon as they’re back on the train, McGoohan captures Wilder, and over tea, explains the whole plan, and how he’s going to kill Wilder and Clayburgh and make it look like a lover’s quarrel. But Pryor dresses as a steward, takes control (after McGoohan calls him a n*****). And as if we had any doubt of his villainy, he also hits Scatman Crothers in the face with a rifle butt.

There’s a shoot out, and once again, Pryor and Wilder are off the train. They’re picked up by the feds, who tell Wilder he was never a suspect, and they’ve been trying to find him since Beatty was killed.

They stop the train, trying to get McGoohan off, but he gets the train started, and there follows a big chase with helicopters, and Patrick McGoohan with a very big gun.

Patrick McGoohan with a gun

McGoohan eventually gets shot and wounded by one of the marksmen, and while he’s hanging out of the engine compartment, he gets squished by an oncoming train.

The train is out of control, and although Wilder and Pryor manage to decouple the passenger car they’re in, the engine smashes into the Chicago station, with some excellent modelwork.

I can’t really explain why I have such fondness for this film. Pryor is virtually wasted, Wilder doesn’t get a lot of comedy, and there’s a lot of generic shooting. But McGoohan is delicious as the oily art dealer, and the crash at the end is genuinely impressive.

After this, recording continues, and an announcer apologises for viewers who had been wanting to watch footbal, which was cancelled because of “the extreme weather conditions at the ground” The match in question being Watford vs Manchester United.

Watford v Man Utd

I bet my sisters were disappointed.

After this announcement, recording stops, and underneath, there’s the end credits for something that looks like a wrestling picture, but there’s something vaguely familiar about the title song and the singer – it’s Sylvester Stallone singing “Too Close To Paradise”, so the movie is Paradise Alley, Stallone’s less than successful followup to Rocky.

Even that recording is short lived, and after that, recording switches to the end of an episode of The Wine Programme.

Then, an extra programme, an episode of Soap. Jessica has been kidnapped by South American revolutionary El Puerco. Jodie is searching for Carol and his daughter Wendy, so he goes to detective Maggie Chandler. And Sheriff Burt was photographed in bed with six women, so the town is calling for his dismissal.

Since this is the last series, Benson has been replaced by Roscoe Lee Browne as Saunders.

Roscoe Lee Browne

After Soap there’s a nice trail for The Tube featuring Rik Mayall.

Then, Channel 4 closes down, and the recording ends.


  • trail: Arts Programmes for Christmas
  • Micronet 800 – I had no idea they ever advertised

  • Hirondelle
  • Citizen
  • trail: Don’s Party
  • TV Time
  • Public Information film about pregnancy


  1. I think I’ve untangled this:

    Don’s Party would have been shown on Channel 4 on 14/12/84 so that means that The Wine Programme/Soap would have been 13/12/84.
    Paradise Alley was on BBC1 on 05/12/84.
    Silver Streak was probably LWT on 20/01/1985. The funny thing is Sunday Times and Daily Mail have this in the TV listings while Guardian has the Big Match scheduled for that afternoon. Is it possible to pull a live TV game at least a day in advance?

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