AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Silver Streak
Alternate Title: Super Chief
Director: Arthur Hiller (Dir)
Release Date:   8 Dec 1976
Premiere Information:   World premiere: 7 Dec 1976, New York City; Los Angeles opening: 10 Dec 1976
Production Date:   12 Apr--mid July 1976
Duration (in mins):   114
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Cast:   Gene Wilder (George [Caldwell])  
    Jill Clayburgh (Hilly [Burns])  
    Richard Pryor (Grover [Muldoon])  
  Also starring Ned Beatty ([Bob] Sweet [Stevens])  
  [and] Clifton James (Sheriff [Oliver] Chauncey)  
  Co-starring Ray Walston (Mr. Whiney)  
    Scatman Crothers (Ralston)  
    Len Birman (Chief)  
    Lucille Benson (Rita Babtree)  
    Stefan Gierasch (Professor Schreiner & Johnson)  
    Valerie Curtin (Plain Jane)  
  And Patrick McGoohan (Roger Devereau) as
  Featuring: Richard Kiel (Reace)  
    Henry Beckman (Conventioneer)  
    Fred Willard (Jerry Jarvis)  
    Steve Weston (Conventioneer)  
    Nick Stewart (Shoeshiner)  
    Harvey Atkin (Conventioneer)  
    Matilda Calnan (Blue-haired lady)  
  [and] Delos V. Smith (Burt)  
    Margarita Garcia (Mexican mama-san)  
    Jack Mather (Conductor)  
    Lloyd White (Porter)  
    Ed McNamara (Benny)  
    Raymond Guth (Night watchman)  
    John Day (Engineer #2)  
    Jack O'Leary (Fat man #1)  
    Lee McLaughlin (Fat man #2)  
    Bill Henderson (Red Cap)  
    Tom Erhart (Cab driver)  
    Gordon Hurst (Moose)  

Summary: Publisher George Caldwell boards the Silver Streak, a train traveling from Los Angeles, California, to Chicago, Illinois, and looks forward to a restful journey. When Ralston, a porter, shows George to his compartment, the door to the adjoining room opens accidentally, revealing fellow passenger Hilly Burns in her underwear. As Ralston leaves, he tells George not to expect any excitement for the next two days. George visits the club car, where he meets vitamin salesman Bob Sweet, who describes the train as “a cathouse on wheels,” full of eager women looking for companionship. When Sweet attempts to demonstrate his point with Hilly, she pours a drink down his pants. Later, in the dining car, Hilly asks to join George at his table, where they discuss the purposes for their trip: George, a publisher of instructional books, is going to his sister’s wedding, and Hilly is the personal secretary to Prof. Arthur Schreiner, who is to introduce his definitive tome on Rembrandt at the Art Institute of Chicago. Hilly’s attraction to George is immediate, and after sharing a bottle of champagne and ordering two more, they retire to their adjoining compartments, which become one large room with the removal of a partition. Their lovemaking is interrupted when George sees a dead man dangling upside down outside the window, though Hilly believes George is hallucinating from too much champagne. George awakens early the next morning and peruses a copy of Schreiner’s book, given to Hilly for safekeeping. A manila envelope falls from it, which George replaces before noticing that the author’s photograph on the book jacket and the dead man are identical. George wakes Hilly with his revelation, but she sleepily insists that he imagined the corpse, and suggests that he visit the professor’s compartment as proof. When George reaches the compartment, it is being ransacked by an ill-tempered man named Mr. Whiney and a metal-toothed giant named Reace; Schreiner is nowhere in sight. After Whiney and George exchange threats, Reace throws George from the train. George comes upon a small farm run by Rita Babtree, who listens to his story and offers to take him into the nearby town of Staveley, New Mexico, if he milks her cow. Rita flies George to Staveley in her biplane and he secretly boards the train when it passes through town. George enters the dining car and is devastated at the sight of Hilly with another man. As George turns to leave, Bob Sweet invites him to lunch, and identifies Hilly’s companion as Roger Devereau, a renowned expert in fine art. When Devereau and Hilly leave the car, George follows her into her compartment. Hilly is happy to see him, expressing her concern over his disappearance. As George warns Hilly of the danger she could be facing, Devereaux enters and apologizes on behalf of Reace. Devereaux explains that Reace and Whiney are in his employ and were simply looking for some papers that Schreiner had misplaced when George walked in on them. When George asserts that he saw Schreiner’s body the previous night, the professor appears. George is embarrassed and apologizes for meddling, promising Devereaux that he will mind his own business for the remainder of the trip. Hilly asks George to join them for dinner, but George declines and heads to the club car. In George’s absence, Devereaux slaps Hilly across the face, eliciting a chuckle from Whiney. Later, Sweet finds George in the club car drinking heavily, and questions George on his disappearance. Sweet reveals himself to be a federal agent named Bob Stevens, who has been trailing Devereau for more than two years. According to Sweet, Schreiner was murdered because his Rembrandt biography contains information that would ruin Devereau. Also, Whiney and Reace were searching the professor’s compartment for several letters, written by Rembrandt, proving that two paintings authenticated by Devereau were forgeries. Remembering the manila envelope, George takes Sweet to Hilly’s compartment, where they find the Rembrandt papers inside Schreiner’s book. Sweet believes that Hilly will be killed when they reach Chicago, so he instructs George to take her off the train at the next station. As the train passes through a tunnel, a shot is heard in the dark, leaving Sweet on the floor, dying. He gives his gun to George, whom he suspects was the intended target. Ralston enters to see George holding a gun over Sweet's body and runs into the corridor proclaiming that a killer is on board. George runs after Ralston protesting his innocence, and is seen by Reace, who chases him into the baggage car and onto the roof. Along the way, George loses his gun but finds a spear gun, which he uses to kill Reace before falling from the train. In the next town, Sheriff Oliver Chauncey attempts to arrest George, who in turn steals Chauncey’s gun and police car. George is aided in his escape by Grover Muldoon, an African American thief hiding in the back seat. They elude the police and cross the state line. George and Grover arrive at a Kansas City, Missouri, train station to find police stationed throughout and newspaper headlines accusing George of Sweet’s murder. Grover uses shoe polish to disguise George as an African American, and they board the Silver Streak without interference. While Grover searches for a porter’s uniform, George removes his disguise and enters Hilly’s compartment, where he is clubbed from behind. George awakens in a dining car with Devereau and Hilly. Devereau now has the Rembrandt letters, and he plans to kill George and Hilly in a staged murder-suicide, leaving evidence that they killed Schreiner. Grover enters dressed as a waiter and holds Devereau at gunpoint. The group goes to the baggage car to retrieve the letters from Devereau’s safe, but Johnson, Schreiner’s double, comes to his employer’s defense, forcing George and Grover to jump off the train. Hilly is held prisoner while Whiney and Johnson disconnect all of the emergency brakes on the train, ensuring that Devereau reaches his rendezvous with a helicopter in Rockdale, Illinois, on time. Meanwhile, George and Grover are arrested by a police officer, who takes them to the makeshift headquarters of federal agents on the Devereau case. After George informs the agents of Devereau’s plans, the chief arranges to stop the train at Harris Mill Junction, Illinois, evacuate the passengers and crew, and arrest Devereau. George leaves with the agents, while Grover returns to Kansas City. When the train stops, Devereau and his men plot to commandeer the engine, but are interrupted by Ralston, whom they pistol-whip. As the train empties, the agents fire on the criminals, and Whiney is shot. Grover reappears, and he and George board the train to rescue Hilly. After Devereau orders the engineer to start the train, the gunfight continues as agents in helicopters give chase. On board, George kills Johnson; Devereau kills the engineer for trying to escape, and weights the throttle with a toolbox. A bullet wound from the chief disables Devereau, who is unable to save himself before he is beheaded by an oncoming train. The chief radios Union Station in Chicago, Illinois, to report that a runaway train is coming, but a skeptical assistant controller delays efforts to avoid disaster. Meanwhile, George disconnects a rear car from the train, and he, Grover, Hilly and Ralston jump to safety on it. Warnings are broadcast throughout the station to evacuate, moments before the train crashes through the gate and into the lobby, while the car containing George, Hilly, Grover and Ralston rolls into the rail yard. As a crowd gathers around the wreckage, Grover steals a car in the lobby display and bids George and Hilly farewell. The couple leaves the station to find a park. 

Production Text: A Frank Yablans Presentation
A Martin Ransohoff-Frank Yablans Production
An Arthur Hiller Film
A Miller-Milkis-Colin Higgins Picture
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation  
Director: Arthur Hiller (Dir)
  Max Kleven (2d unit dir)
  Jack B. Bernstein (Prod mgr)
  Peter V. Herald (Prod mgr)
  Jack Roe (Asst dir)
  Lively Andrew Stone (2d asst dir)
  Peter Bergquist (DGA trainee)
Producer: Thomas L. Miller (Prod)
  Edward K. Milkis (Prod)
  Martin Ransohoff (Exec prod)
  Frank Yablans (Exec prod)
Writer: Colin Higgins (Wrt)
Photography: David M. Walsh (Dir of photog)
  Bill Hansard (Process consultant)
  Ralph Woolsey (2d unit photog)
  Norman Harris (Gaffer)
  Richard Moran (Key grip)
  Roger Shearman, Jr. (Cam op)
  Fred Smith (1st asst cam)
  Vic King (2d asst cam, Los Angeles)
  James Boyle (Best boy)
  John McDonald (Dolly grip)
  Phillip Sarabia (Grip best boy)
  John H. Gereghty (Stills)
Art Direction: Alfred Sweeney (Prod des)
  Leon Harris (Illustrator)
Film Editor: David Bretherton (Ed)
  Hugh K. Cummings (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Marvin March (Set dec)
  Syd Greenwood (Prop master)
  George Eckert (Set des)
  Spencer Deverill (Set des)
  Oswald Rennison (Set des)
  Jack Taylor (Set des)
  Gunnar Mattson (Const coord)
  Nick Caprarelli (Leadman)
  Delbert Diener (Asst props)
Costumes: Phyllis Garr (Ward)
  Michael Harte (Ward)
  Ed Wynigear (Men`s ward)
Music: Henry Mancini (Mus)
  Kenneth J. Hall (Mus ed)
Sound: Hal Etherington (Sd mixer)
  Don Mitchell (Rerec mixer)
  William Hartman (Sd ed)
  Edward Rossi (Sd ed)
  Ron Stirling (Boom man)
Special Effects: Fred Cramer (Spec eff)
  Phill Norman (Title des)
Make Up: William Tuttle (Makeup)
  Joan Phillips (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Marie Kenney (Scr supv)
  Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Chip Fowler (Prod coord)
  Karen Kelly (Prod coord, Los Angeles)
  Mary Gilliland (First aid)
  Harry Williams (Auditor)
  Ronnie Baker (Transportation coord)
  Pete Johnson (Transportation capt, Los Angeles)
  Jack Hirshberg (Pub)
Stand In: Mickey Gilbert (Stunt coord)
  John Daheim (Stunts)
Color Personnel: De Luxe® (Col by)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text:

Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  Widescreen/ratio: Photographic equipment by Panavision®

Genre: Comedy
Sub-Genre: Crime
Subjects (Major): Fraud
  Rembrandt van Rijn
  United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Subjects (Minor): Airplanes
  Attempted murder
  Automobile theft
  Chicago (IL)
  Impersonation and imposture
  Premarital sex
  Railroad engineers
  Spear guns
  Sports cars
  Union Station (Los Angeles, CA)

Note: The 26 Apr 1976 HR listed actor Bud Walls as a member of the cast, but he is not credited onscreen and his participation in the film has not been determined.
       Referring to the picture by its working title, Super Chief, the 13 Oct 1975 DV announced that the production marked executive producer Frank Yablans’s first independent film in a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. The 24 Oct 1975 DV stated that Superchief would be filmed in Canada, due to a dispute with Amtrak Railways in the U.S., and that Jacqueline Bisset was considered for the starring role of “Hilly,” but she was later replaced by Jill Clayburgh. The 6 Apr 1976 DV reported that principal photography began on The Silver Streak 12 Apr 1976. The 3 May 1976 Box then reported that one week later, on 20 Apr 1976, filming moved to Calgary, Alberta. Other locations included Lethbridge, AB; Toronto, ON; and Los Angeles, CA. A news item in the 31 May 1976 Box reported that location photography in Toronto concluded on 20 May 1976, while the 24 May 1976 HR reported the date as 23 May 1976. Another six weeks of filming were planned for Los Angeles.
       According to the 12 May 1976 Var, director Arthur Hiller, a native of British Columbia, hoped to make the picture in his home province, but the government of neighboring Alberta offered inducements that British Columbia was unwilling to match. The article stated that $300,000 of the film’s budget would be allocated for the use of Canadian Pacific Railway trains.
       An article in the 11 Jun 1976 DV explained that the Santa Fe Railroad and two other lines would not allow access to their tracks for location photography, even though Amtrak had offered full cooperation regarding passenger trains, despite the earlier dispute with filmmakers. Yablans hoped for assistance from the film industry labor unions in pressuring the railroads and government agencies, though he made no direct appeal. The move to Canada for location shooting cost the producer an additional $200,000, but the loss to U.S. laborers in wages comprised $2 million of the film’s $5.5 million budget.
       A news item in the 11 May 1976 DV stated that veteran stuntman John Daheim sustained “a severely lacerated skull” during the filming of Silver Streak. Following the injury, director Arthur Hiller, impressed with Daheim’s abilities, ordered the scene rewritten, requiring Daheim to fall forty feet into icy water from the roof of a train car.
       A news item in the 14 Feb 1977 Box reported the cost of the train wreck scene to be $500,000. Although Toronto’s Union Station served as the location for the scene, the disaster itself was simulated on a studio lot.
       Silver Streak premiered on 7 Dec 1976 at the Tower East Theater in New York City, with proceeds benefitting the Council to Beautify Israel, as reported in the 6 Dec 1976 Box. Stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were in attendance. The film opened in the New York City area the next day, on 8 Dec 1976.
       The picture opened to mixed reviews, with several singling out Pryor as the film’s greatest asset. Although the 1 Dec 1976 Var review predicted that ticket sales would taper off following the holiday season, the 8 Jul 1977 New Times estimated that Silver Streak had grossed as much as $30 million to that time, asserting that the public held the film to a different level of entertainment than critics had. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   20 Oct 1975.   
Box Office   3 May 1976.   
Box Office   15 Nov 1976.   
Box Office   6 Dec 1976.   
Box Office   20 Dec 1976.   
Box Office   14 Feb 1977.   
Daily Variety   29 Oct 1975.   
Daily Variety   1 Apr 1976.   
Daily Variety   11 May 1976.   
Daily Variety   11 Jun 1976   p. 1, 21.
Daily Variety   25 Dec 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   6 Apr 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Apr 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   26 Apr 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   24 May 1976.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Nov 1976   p. 2, 5.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Mar 1977.   
LAHExam   10 Dec 1976.   
Los Angeles Times   18 Oct 1975.   
Los Angeles Times   29 Nov 1976.   
Los Angeles Times   9 Dec 1976   p. 1.
Los Angeles Times   6 Feb 1977.   
New York Times   9 Dec 1976   p. 61.
Newsweek   13 Dec 1976.   
New Times   8 Jul 1977.   
New York   17 Jan 1977.   
New Yorker   17 Jan 1977.   
Time   13 Dec 1976.   
Variety   12 May 1976.   
Variety   1 Dec 1976   p. 18.
Variety   16 Mar 1977.   
Variety   29 Sep 1982   p. 27.

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