Skip and Harry are framed for a bank robbery and end up in a western prison. The two eastern boys are…
Release Year: 1980
Rating: 6.6/10 (9,088 voted)
Stars: Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Georg Stanford Brown
Skip and Harry are framed for a bank robbery and end up in a western prison. The two eastern boys are having difficulty adjusting to the new life until the warden finds that Skip has a natural talent for riding broncos with the inter-prison rodeo coming up.
Georg Stanford Brown
Miguel Ángel Suárez
(as Miguelangel Suarez)
Craig T. Nelson
Deputy Ward Wilson
Warden Walter Beatty
Warden Henry Sampson
Erland van Lidth
(as Erland Van Lidth De Jeude)
Lewis Van Bergen
Young Man in Hospital
Two jailbirds who just want out of the cage.
Release Date: 12 December 1980
Filming Locations: Florence, Arizona, USA
Did You Know?
Richard Pryor refused to wear the woodpecker costume for the bank scene so a double was used in the film but he did wear it for the poster and promotional pictures.
The amount of beer in Harry's glass changes before and after Nancy visits the table.
[Harry slaps Rory hand when he touches his arm]
Stop that! What did you do anyway?
I killed my daddy.
What did you do that for?
He laughed at my suede jacket (pause) and he slapped my hand.
Oh. (Puts Rory's hand back on his arm)
Humor and suspense
Skip Donahue (Gene Wilder) and Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) are best
friends living in New York City. Donahue is an amateur playwright,
working a day job in department store security. Monroe is working as a
catering assistant. When Donahue is canned for harassing a starlet and
Monroe is fired because his marijuana ends up in the food at a society
dinner on the same day, Donahue takes it as the perfect opportunity to
finally leave the cold, unfriendly metropolis and head out West.
Unfortunately, neither is very well adapted to life outside of New
York, and they end up framed for a crime.
I hadn't seen Stir Crazy since at least the early 1980s. Recently I had
a chance to rewatch Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes'
Smarter Brother (1975), which I hadn't seen since the 1970s, and I was
a bit disappointed. So I was nervous that Stir Crazy might also be a
let down this far removed in time. That couldn't have been more wrong.
I may have even thought it was funnier and more exciting this time
around than when I first watched the film as a teen.
I had forgotten that Stir Crazy isn't just a comedy. It's also fairly
suspenseful and surprisingly serious at times in the last act. Director
Sidney Poitier makes a smooth transition through many genres–buddy
film, road movie, fish out of water story and prison film, aided of
course by Wilder and Pryor. While both actors have had plenty of
performances just as good as Stir Crazy, neither have had any that were
In a way, this is really more Wilder's film than Pryor's. That's no
slight on Pryor; Wilder just ends up getting more screen time. He
presents a hilariously bizarre, complex character who is full of
contradictions–kind of a channeling of a less loquacious Woody Allen
through a more down to earth version of his Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka &
The Chocolate Factory, 1971). Wilder's Skip Donahue has an air of
Mister Rogers-styled good-natured innocence, with the same kind of odd
and maybe creepy homoerotic overtones, but he'll also turn on a dime
into a neurotic, screaming loon. As I said, it's all very complex, but
extremely funny and enjoyable to watch.
Pryor's Harry Monroe is more of a streetwise perpetual victim who
doesn't adjust to the social world of the criminal justice system as
well as Donahue does. He has a much more typical reaction, with no
misconceptions about their dire circumstances.
The crux of the humor in the first section of the film is the naivety
of Donahue's "grass is always greener on the other side" conception of
the Western U.S. compared to New York City. Of course, things turn out
to be not quite so simple, but it's funny and charming that Poitier and
writer Bruce Jay Friedman have Donahue never quite wake up from his
naïve misconception. It also turns out to have much more weight than
just a comic device: Donahue survives in prison as well as he does, and
it brings about the profound changes of character–Donahue becomes much
more authentic, realizes his potential, gains material for his art and
even gets the girl–because of his continued misprision (in the Bloom
sense) about life outside of New York City, and in the end, it enables
a "return to the market", as they say in Zen Buddhism.
Watching Stir Crazy at this later point in time, some of the humor
might seem a bit clichéd to younger viewers. It's important to remember
that this is where a lot of those "clichés" came from. In 1980,
everyone was mimicking scenes from this film (such "We bad . . .") and
repeating dialogue and jokes. Some of the filmic (and by extension
general cultural) folklore or urban legends about prisons contained in
Stir Crazy had made appearances in films prior to this one, but not in
the particular irreverent way that they're satirized here.
This is an important film in the careers of a few of the greatest
actors and comedians (Wilder, Pryor and Poitier), with an important
place in the history of Hollywood comedy. The fact that it's also
suspenseful and has philosophical things to say about human nature is a
bonus that makes this a film you shouldn't miss.