Who knew prison was this funny?
Columbia raises the curtain on a classic buddy comedy movie, giving us a gorgeous transfer but scant extras.
Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, here and in Silver Streak, gave the world some fine examples of the buddy comedy genre. This is not coarse, broadly played humor (a la Dumb and Dumber) but a lower-key, average-guys-in-trouble sort of situational comedy well suited to the talents of this pair of actors. I have always been a great fan of their work (including the less well received See No Evil, Hear No Evil), so I was very happy to learn that Columbia was releasing Stir Crazy, knowing their reputation for putting out good product.
The story begins with our heroes in New York City. Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) is a waiter at a posh dinner party where the diners seem a little too happy. Seconds later, we learn that the cook has been very liberal with the oregano her helper took from the cook's bag, only it was Harry's bag, and it sure wasn't oregano! Skip Donohue (Gene Wilder) is the goofiest store detective you'll ever meet, who meets a famous actress and accuses her of shoplifting, which she coldly and indignantly denies. When we next meet our heroes, they are commiserating in a local bar, as they have both been fired! They decide to shake the dust of New York from their feet, and strike out for Hollywood to seek their fortune, with visions of money and exotic women dancing in their heads.
Needless to say, they don't make it to Hollywood, as their beat-up Dodge van breaks down in a small town (somewhere near Texas), forcing them to seek a job as mascots at the local bank. Matters go horribly wrong when two locals impersonate our heroes to rob the bank and the police arrest our boys (those New Yorkers!) for the crime. After a hilarious scene at the local lockup, our heroes find the course of justice blindingly fast and harsh and are shipped off to Glenboro State Prison for a 125 year sentence (in real time, 30 years, tops!) in short order.
Our heroes begin to get acquainted with their surroundings and meet the locals, such as a gay prisoner, Rory Shultebrand (Georg Stanford Brown), who takes a liking to Harry (much to his dismay), a friendly bank robber, Jesus Ramirez (Miguel Angel Suarez), and Grossberger (Erland Van Lindth), a hulking, silent, mass murderer. They soon learn that Warden Beatty (Barry Corbin) and his sadistic assistant Deputy Wilson (Craig T. Nelson) put all new prisoners through a grueling test on a mechanical bull, so that those with talent can be forced to ride in the prison rodeo and win the Warden's bets with his rival, Warden Sampson.
City slicker Skip Donohue proves to be a born cowboy, and an escape plot is born, as the annual rodeo is always held at a local facility that Jesus knows has a weakness. However, Skip has to force Warden Beatty to agree to his terms, by refusing to ride until he gets the right to pick his own team. Needless to say, Warden Beatty is incensed, and orders Deputy Wilson to extract Skip's surrender. What ensues has to be the highlight of the movie, a series of petty tortures that is both futile and highly comedic. Of course, Skip and the Warden eventually agree to terms, and the escape preparations move forward. At the same time, Skip and Harry's attorney is working with his beautiful cousin Meredith (JoBeth Williams) to get them a new trial. Naturally, Skip is enamored of Meredith, but he's not likely to be able to get out any time soon. Or is he?
We finish at the rodeo competition, a surprisingly tense sequence where our heroes must play their roles while making good their escape. Having done so, they are surprised to meet up with their attorney and Meredith, make a surprising discovery, and ride off into the sunset! The End.
One very surprising fact that I didn't realize until now was that Stir Crazy was directed by Sidney Poitier. There must be a story behind that fact, given his great stature as an actor and his only occasional forays into the director's chair. He does a competent job here, and according to the disc insert, was the reason that the producers decided to use an actual prison for filming and struck a deal with Arizona State Prison officials. He also knew enough to let Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor loose upon the script, saying "[y]ou're two racehorses. I wan to steer you, not tell you how to run."
This is an absolutely first-rate transfer from Columbia. All hail Columbia! While the color palette is not as vibrant as more modern films, this is not the fault of the transfer, but rather the time when this film was made, nearly twenty years ago. Columbia either kept very good care of the original film elements or devoted great care to clean it up for this disc. Either way, I was happily stunned to see just how nice this disc looks. The focus is nicely sharp, and colors well saturated without fuzziness or bleeding. The picture is uniformly clean and nearly free of extraneous nicks, scratches, or dirt. Columbia gave this classic flick an anamorphic transfer, which may explain why it looks this good even on my 4:3 RPTV. There is only one flaw, which I will note below.
Don't expect high fidelity from the audio. Presented solely in mono, the frequency range seemed very bass-oriented to me, with clear attenuation at the higher frequency ranges. A number of the musical pieces seemed so boomy that I turned by subwoofer down a few notches so that it wasn't so distracting. That being said, I don't mind the mono presentation, given that this is a twenty-year-old comedy. A 5.1 remaster would not have been that useful. At least the dialogue was clear and understandable.
If you like the film as much as I do, you will also be sorely disappointed by the lack of extras. You get two pages of production notes on the disc insert, rather bare bones and starkly presented cast and crew filmographies, and two low to medium quality full frame trailers for Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Sigh.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only real fault with the video was in the middle of the scene at the local lockup, at about 27:16, where the video and color quality takes a hit just after the cut. It looks like a fault in the film element and not the transfer.
I give Columbia credit for not going with a purely static main menu, but that small credit is wiped out (and beyond) by their clunky choice. As you move the selector down, a prison cell door moves out a bit further (with an accompanying clank). I found this to be very annoying when all you want to do is quickly jump down to another option, and not that interesting anyway. The rest of the menus are static, as are the scene selection choices.
As noted above, the talent and filmography section is rather bare on the details and starkly presented. Whenever this sort of selection is included on a disc, we should at least get some details on the life and career of the person in question. This is a better example of what not to do.
On a similar note, I love trailers, I love having lots of trailers even more. Here, my main complaint is that the trailer for THIS movie is missing! I think it should be a minimum requirement for all DVD discs that the trailer for that movie must be included! I must also note that the trailers here are all too typical, in that the quality is relatively poor and they are full frame. Yeeccch!
Come on, Columbia! Even a brief featurette, or some commentary from Sidney Poitier or Gene Wilder would have made this a truly great disc. I pray (very, very hard) that Fox can do better if they ever release Silver Streak (but I'm not holding my breath).
The packaging is the preferred Amaray keep case. I would also ask Columbia to do a better job on the description of features, because I had to resort to the disc's listing with Image Entertainment to confirm that it is in fact an anamorphic video and mono audio transfer.
A buddy-comedy classic, showcasing Pryor and Wilder near the top of their game, looks as good as it probably ever did in a theater. Just don't buy it for jaw-dropping sound or bushels of extras.
The movie and the transfer are acquitted. Columbia is guilty of criminal non-inclusion of extras, and in light of good behavior (Ghostbusters, hoo rah!) is released on unsupervised probation.
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