The partnership between Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor only produced four movies and of those only two were any good but there’s a reason why the partnership feels some legendary and that reason is Stir Crazy.
This 1980 prison comedy saw what happens when two down on their luck New Yorkers (Skip Donahue played by Wilder and Harry Monroe played by Pryor) attempt to reinvent themselves in the West. They head out to the sunbelt, which turns out to be a bit of a redneck nightmare, and before long they are railroaded by the Justice System for a bank robbery they didn’t commit and end up in maximum security prison.
As they attempt to adapt to prison life, the boys are handed a lifeline of sorts when it turns out that Skip has a natural talent for bullriding and is selected to represent the prison at the annual prison rodeo, a big event with a lot of money riding on it and therefore a lot of corruption and the ruthless prison staff are not going to accept no for an answer.
1. Gene Wilder is king. His Skip Donahue character is a daydreamer and sees the best in every situation, even if it does make him incredibly naive. He’s probably the most likeable character from any movie ever.
2. Richard Pryor gets the best line of the movie. After getting sentenced to 125 years for bank robbery he has a little breakdown in the court. “125 YEARS?! I don’t even want to do one year. I don’t even want to do a hundred!“
3. Skip is a playwright and Harry is an occasional actor. So when they first go to jail, Harry decides to strut in confidently. When Skip asks why it leads to one of the most memorable scenes of the movie as their confidence in their own performances starts to drain.
“That’s right we’re bad. We’re bad. And we don’t take no shit. We don’t take too much shit. We take a little bit of shit.”
4. After three months of hard time in prison, Skip meets Meredith (played by the gorgeous JoBeth Williams), the sister of his terrible lawyer and still has enough charm to make an attempt at striking up a romance.
“…could you actually become involved, I mean romantically, with a prisoner?”
5. The mighty Grossberger, played by Erland Van Lidth De Jeude, ends up as being Skip and Harry’s minder and helps them to escape. He’s a big, cuddly bear of a man. So much so that it’s easy to forget his roots. “That’s Grossberger. The biggest mass murderer in the history of the southwest. He killed his entire family and all of his relatives in one weekend and then he killed some more people that reminded him of his family.”
Aside from another memorable turn as Dynamo in The Running Man, Erland’s career was very shortlived as he died aged 34.
6. Mike from Breaking Bad is in it. And he’s got hair! He (Jonathan Banks) plays Jack Graham. The prison’s main rodeo rider who isn’t happy that a soft New Yorker who knows nothing about riding has taken his spot on the team. He gets knocked out by Grossberger when he gets close to catching them escape.
7. The scene after their first day of hard labour. Skip gets on the bed and disguises his whines of agony as yoga chanting while Harry whimpers for his pillow and pulls his bedding on top of himself.
8. Everyone loves a happy ending and when Skip and Harry escape, taking their friends with them, you’ve got to be chuffed. Especially when Meredith tells them she found the real bankrobbers and the boys aren’t just free but they are legitimately free. Okay, so I’m not sure escaping jail wouldn’t incur its own sentence (and one of the escapees is a murderer and the other a bankrobber!) but they decide to skip the state ASAP. And Meredith goes with them so Skip gets the girl too. Woo!
9. The film is a good reminder to NEVER FUCK ABOUT IN AMERICA. You don’t want to go to prison there. The prison staff are as bad as the prisoners and when you’ve got characters in there called Blade who are mass murderers and yet get to run things? Yeah, no thanks. Watch Oz if you need a good advice top up.
10. The way they initially get fired from their jobs is excellent. Skip is working as a store detective and wrongly accuses and actress of shoplifting in an excellent scene that shows what an incredibly nice guy he is. Harry’s severance comes when his stash of weed is advertantly cooked at a posh dinner party that he is working at.
“Smell that. This is ’65 African gungi from the motherland. Understand? It’s been soaked
in the earth back home. This is mean! One joint of this put Southern California to sleep back in ’65. There was a revolution in ’65. We missed it because of this.”
Stir Crazy, people. Still great 35 years after it first hit the screens. The best of the Pryor/Wilder movies, the best pure comedy of the ’80s and maybe the best movie ever made.