Hanky Panky (1982)

Director: Sidney Poitier

Starring: Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, Kathleen Quinlan, Richard Widmark, Robert Prosky, Josef Sommer

Written by: Henry Rosenbaum and David Taylor

Running Time: 110 mins

Original UK Cert: AA

Original US Release: 4th June 1982

No trailer available

In 1980, a modest budget comedy directed by a Hollywood legend and starring a pairning that had made a big splash four years earlier in the comedy thriller Silver Streak, was released. That film was Stir Crazy and it became an international smash. So impressed with the box office, Columbia Picture, who produced the film, wanted to cash in on the huge success and ordered another film with the same “midas touch” of Sidney Poitier behind the camera, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in front.

The next film was entitled, Traces. Pryor, however, mysteriously pulled out, leaving Poitier and Wilder still attached. With some smart writing, Pryor’s role was changed from a man to a woman, a little romance was thrown in and we went from Traces to Hanky Panky. The success bubble popped and this bombed. Not surprising, really, as it was a total stinker.

Michael Jordan is an architect from Chicago, visiting New York, who gets into the same cab as Janet Dunn. Unbeknownst to Jordan, Dunn is being followed by some thugs. Seeing him, Jordan immediately becomes connected with the woman and, he too, is pursued. When she is murdered, Jordan instantly becomes suspect number one and must go on the run in order to prove his innocence. With a female reporter, Kate Hellman, a woman who is trying to discover why her brother committed suicide, as his only ally, Jordan must outsmart the police, the bad guys and the CIA, over a stolen computer tape.

Working on the theory that if it worked for Silver Streak, it can work here, this comedy thriller about an innocent man caught up in a cat and mouse game of intrigue, failed to understand why Silver Streak was such a success. The plot was simple. It wasn’t complicated. You knew who was bad, who was good and why people were being killed. It also helped to have Wilder and Pryor working together. Here the plot is so complicated that you really don’t care about anyone.

Wilder is the master of neurotic shouting. All his films have him doing it and yes, it is funny. Only when done occasionally. Here, as the hapless Michael Jordan (no, not THAT Michael Jordan), he spends the whole film screaming and shouting, as if that is the only way to milk humour out of a humourless script. After a while, what was funny becomes increasingly annoying.

Saturday Night Live alumni, Gilda Radner, is Pryor’s replacement. As Kate, she is given little else to do but mug to the camera every time Wilder screeches. She looks every inch confused as the audience. Radner was a fine comedienne but this rarely shows off the talent she had.

Along with the usual mix of “character” actors (Richard Widmark as a baddie, Robert Prosky as the “is he good or bad”) this really has little going for it, hence why it has become almost forgotten, a film you will have more luck finding in a bargain bucket at a supermarket (where I found my copy). Poitier’s direction is uninspiring, basically pointing the camera at his stars and letting them do their thing.

If one good thing came out of this film, it was that Gene Wilder found happiness briefly in meeting Gilda Radner. They married soon after but it was a marriage that faced tragedy when Ms Radner passed away from cancer in 1989.

The film is a messy affair that makes you struggle to care, leaves you bewildered with its plot and clearly laughter-free, a major problem for a comedy. Even the original poster is a lie, with Wilder and Radner in a helicopter being chased through the Grand Canyon. Something that doesn’t happen at all during the film. Best to stick with Stir Crazy or Silver Streak if you want to see Wilder on form and proper comedies that make you laugh. Still, they probably had a good time making it. Pity we didn’t have a good time watching it.


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