On this day in comedy on December 12, 1980 Stir Crazy was released by Columbia Pictures.
This Richard Pryor / Gene Wilder comedy marks the first time a film directed by a black director grossed over 100 million dollars. The director was Sidney Poitier and the true figure was $101,300,000 on a $10 million budget. It was the third biggest box office hit of 1980 right behind The Empire Strikes Back and 9-to-5. With music by Tom Scott, Stir Crazy was a fun ride.
The story is about mistaken identity. Pryor and Wilder are in the entertainment business, but have soured of living in New York. So, they pack up and head to Hollywood, taking odd jobs along the way. One of those gigs is a promotion for a local hick bank. The duo dress up like giant chickens and dance around like fools singing a silly song. When Pryor and Wilder go on their lunch break, two unsavory characters steal their chicken suits and rob the bank. When our clueless and hapless heroes return to work, they’re arrested and put through a hasty trail that nets them 125 years in a maximum-security prison.
Life behind bars does not agree with Pryor and Wilder. Between their court appointed lawyer asking them to relax while he appeals and the guards attempting to break them down, they’re ready to go. Their exit strategy makes its appearance in the form of a lucky break. The cocky warden wants to humiliate the two New Yorkers and test their manhood by having them ride the mechanical bull in his office. To the warden’s surprise, as well as that of his galoot guard, Wilder can not only stay on the bull, he’s a natural born rodeo star. This gets the warden to thinking. If he has Wilder ride in the upcoming annual rodeo he can finally win the big bet from the warden at the competing penitentiary.
The warden’s plans fail when Wilder refuses to participate. The guards make him work until he’s supposed to drop. He still won’t do it. They put in solitary confinement. No, he won’t do it. Finally, he agrees if the warden gives him a bigger cell and lets him pick his own rodeo team. Agreed. The team is made up of the group of prisoners Pryor and Wilder have befriended and who all plan to escape during the rodeo. That plan works wonders as the huge mass murderer opens a panel for each member of the crew to slip out. Once Pryor and Wilder leave they all meet up and some of the crew head off to south of the border. As Pryor and Wilder drive off in their car the court appointed lawyer cuts them off. He got a judge to let them off with his newly submitted evidence. They’re free to go on with their lives and Pryor, Wilder and the lawyer’s cousin, who Wilder is now hooked up with, drive off into the sunset as the lawyer waves his good-bye.
Stir Crazy received favorable reviews. Written by Bruce Jay Friedman, the film featured the talents of Georg Sanford Brown, Franklyn Ajaye, Grand L. Bush, Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: