Sidney Poitier Richard Combs - Essay

Richard Combs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Against all the odds, Sidney Poitier's last directorial venture, A Piece of the Action—a loose bundle of heist movie, sit-com and moral uplift—pulled itself through on sheer naivety and patent sincerity. Something of the same mix might be said to work for Stir Crazy, which displays an untoward delight in recoining comedy stereotypes. And the populist nerve that Poitier seemed to be playing towards in A Piece of the Action has been resoundingly hit—in box-office terms anyway—in Stir Crazy…. It begins none too promisingly, with a lame reversal of the out-of-towner joke as two Manhattanites, playwright Gene Wilder and actor Richard Pryor, decide to quit the city (despite a credit montage, and title song "Who Needs Hollywood?", which invokes the usual New York paranoia about out-there) for the inspirational spaces of the West. But the film thereafter remains convincingly split between optimistic naivety and paranoid trepidation—anchored respectively in Wilder and Pryor—about what this pioneer experience might involve. In turn, the genial, wide-open spaces of Poitier's direction seem to allow the duo more room than usual to expand on their accustomed personae, and the script offers less constrictive material than their Silver Streak pairing…. [The] film's mood remains consistent until the introductions are made in prison and then it switches, just as anonymously and personably at the same time, into its Great Escape finale. Of the self-improving sentiments espoused in A Piece of the Action there is not much sign here—except for the fact that, as they are being set up as bank robbers, not only are our heroes to be seen innocently eating their lunch, but tidily disposing of the wrappers. (p. 79)

Richard Combs, in his review of "Stir Crazy," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1981), Vol. 48, No. 567, April, 1981, pp. 78-9.