Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stir Crazy (1980)

Harry Monroe: Yea, that's right! That's right! We bad!

Framed for a bank robbery, friends Skip and Harry find themselves sentenced to serve 125 years in prison.  The city boys find adjusting to the new life very difficult.  It becomes even more difficult when Skip is ordered to ride a bull in the upcoming prison rodeo.  To back down would mean having to face the notorious mass murderer, Grossberger.  No prisoner ever wants face Grossberger!  They'd be out of their minds!

"Stir Crazy" wasn't the first film Sidney Poitier directed.  It was, however, the first film directed by an African American to have grossed over $100 million in the U.S. alone ($101.5 million, actually) after making its premiere on December 12, 1980.  With the exception of being filmed at Stage 15 of the Warner Brothers Burbank Studio, the film was also shot on location in cities of Florence and Tuscon, Arizona.

Starring Gene Wilder (Skip), Richard Pryor (Harry), and Georg Stanford Brown (Rory), "Stir Crazy" also co-starred JoBeth Williams (Meredith), Miguel Angel Suarez (Jesus Ramirez), Craig T. Nelson (Deputy Ward Wilson), and Barry Corbin (Warden Walter Beatty).  This was only the second feature film for actors JoBeth Williams and Barry Corbin.

The second and most successful of four films Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor starred in together, here are some more tidbits of trivia for you...

1.  This movie was the sixth film that Sidney Poitier directed but it was the first one in which he also did not star.

2. The character of Warden Walter Beatty played by Barry Corbin was frequently referred to in the movie as "Warden Beatty" as this spoofed the name of actor Warren Beatty.

3.  First of three movies that actors JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson both appeared in. The two would take the leads in both "Poltergeist" and "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."

4.  Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder improvised many of their scenes together.

5.  Richard Pryor refused to wear the woodpecker costume in the bank scene, so a double was used in the film.  He did, however, wear it for the poster and promotional pictures.

6.  350 Arizona State Prison inmates worked as extras in the film.

7.  The cast and crew had to leave the prison walking in single file every night so the prison guards could ensure that no prisoners escaped. One night, Charles Weldon (Blade) was mistaken for a prisoner by the guards, pulled out of the line and sent to the cell block. A production coordinator noticed he was missing and rushed back to the prison to vouch for Weldon.

8.  According to Gene Wilder's autobiography, Richard Pryor once quit the film. One day during filming, the craft service department was serving watermelon and some of the crew members began playfully throwing pieces of it at each other. A piece of watermelon landed at Pryor's feet. Pryor accused the crew of racism as the eating of watermelon is considered a stereotype of African-Americans. Pryor returned to the film after the crew member that threw the piece was fired.  But... There's more to the story than that...

9.  According to Greg Ferrara at the Turner Classic Movies, "Pryor was constantly late to the set, sometimes showing up at noon, as much as four hours late. His bodyguard later admitted to Pryor's agent, David Franklin, that Pryor was freebasing cocaine every night during the shoot. This made the star's behavior erratic and paranoid. One infamous incident almost shut down the whole film although the views of what actually happened are different for each witness. According to the biography, "If I Stop, I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor', by Dennis A. Williams and John A. Williams, Pryor 'claimed that members of the crew were driving out to the house where he was staying, two hours away from the film's Arizona prison location, and shooting at him. One day, he said, a crew member dropped a watermelon from a ladder near him, and that was the last straw'. He walked off the set and vowed not to go back". 

10.  One of two 1980 movies featuring a mechanical bull (aka a rodeo bull and bucking bronco). The other was "Urban Cowboy" (which, coincidentally, was Barry Corbin's first feature film).  Gene Wilder is even labeled an "Urban Cowboy" in one scene.

11.  As an MIT graduate, Erland van Lidth (Grossberger) was apparently allowed to wear the famous "brass rat" graduation ring during filming. You can see it most clearly in his scene in the metal shop when he bends the metal bar.

12.  Erland van Lidth (born in the Netherlands) did his own singing in this film as he was, in fact, an accomplished opera singer (though he lip-synced to his own singing for film's sake).  "Stir Crazy" was the second of four films he acted in before he died in Manhattan at the age of 34.

13.  Arizona State Prison officials used the money given to rent out their facilities to construct a rodeo arena of their own. 

14.  Richard Pryor's first million dollar paycheck movie. Moreover, Pryor received points to the value of 10% of the gross. However, Gene Wilder received top first billing, Pryor got second billing. In their two final movies together ("Another You" and "See No Evil, Hear No Evil"), Pryor would get first billing over Wilder. 

15.  Publicity for this picture at the time of release stated that it was the studio's third biggest hit in its history running behind only "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." 

16.  The picture grossed $101,500,000 at the box-office in the USA making it the third highest grossing movie of 1980, behind only to "Nine to Five" and "Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back.

17.  fter the box-office success of this picture, the film's principals, director Sidney Poitier and actors Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were meant to re-team for "Hanky Panky." That movie re-teamed star Wilder and Poitier for their second and final collaboration. It was suppose to be another Wilder/Pryor teaming, but Pryor didn't do the film. According to 'DVD Verdict', "For some reason, Pryor backed out and his part was rewritten into a female lead, for... Gilda Radner."
When you pair Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor together for a film, you're guaranteed to laugh.  If not, you're either very sad (aww...), or you just don't get their humor.  Or you might want to check your pulse.  Your heart is still beating... isn't it?  If not, umm... how are you reading this?!?

Enjoy these picture stills from the film...

Warden Walter Beatty: You're gonna represent Glenboro prison in the annual Top Hand-competition. Congratulations!
Skip Donahue: Oh! Oh my god! Warden! I can't do that!
Warden Walter Beatty: What in the hell are you talking about...?
Skip Donahue: Well, I should have told you in your office! My mother was a veterinarian! I can't have anything to do with the exploitation of animals, she'd turn over in her grave!
Warden Walter Beatty: I don't believe you heard me correctly. This is very important to me!
Skip Donahue: Important to you? My mother is watching over every step I make! Do you know that my soul is on the line here...? So let's just drop...
[looks up]
Skip Donahue: What? I said no. Whoa, I told him no! Ma, are you crazy, I have witnesses... All right, we'll talk about it in my cell!
[looks at the warden]
Skip Donahue: Uhm... I have to go to the bathroom. Would you excuse me, warden?
[looks up at the sky again, and walks off]

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