Hanky Panky (1982, dir. Sidney Poitier)
A Chicago architect named….(wait for it) Michael Jordan (Gene Wilder) is headed back to his hotel after brokering a deal in New York City when a woman on the run from a couple menacing fellows stumbles in. He quickly becomes involved in an international game of spies and espionage. He gets help from a reporter (Gilda Radner), and the two go on the run after Jordan is framed for murder.
Much like I felt about Poitier’s previous Gene Wilder venture, Stir Crazy, this movie is an utter failure as a comedy. And it’s not too great of an action/thriller film either. The MacGuffin that drives the whole plot is very confusing and unclear, and even at the end, I was still trying to figure out what the big deal was. Things start out interesting enough. A mysterious man wakes up, disoriented, sees a strange painting of a Southwestern landscape on his bedroom wall and proceeds to hang himself. It’s a pretty intense hook. Then we move to Kathleen Quinlan as the woman whose path crosses Jordan’s. She is playing it straight, which is perfect for an action comedy. The comedy comes from moments in the story but the story itself takes things seriously.
I kept thinking back to how good Silver Streak was, how it balanced genuine situational comedy with a legitimately exciting and interesting conspiracy story. Lots of things happen in Hanky Panky and the two leads go to lots of locations, but it never feels like it amounts to anything. It is a lot tighter in its structure then Stir Crazy but still misses the mark on the actual comedy. There’re some instances of Wilder’s trademark outbursts, but they hit too frequently and don’t feel appropriate for the scenes.
The strangest thing to me throughout the whole production was how underused Gilda Radner was. She was known for being a very high energy comedic talent, and she is a fine actor. They just never give her anything to play off of or do other than eventually become the damsel in distress. I got similar feelings from when I see Kristen Wiig in certain productions that seem to ignore her comedic talents.
As far as Wilder’s career, this was near the point where it was beginning to slow down regarding hits or highly memorable work. From interviews I’ve read, he seemed to be a particular actor, so I assume he was looking more at films that interested him rather than would do well. He also began his relationship with Gilda Radner at this point. We’ll see the pair again in his next film, The Woman in Red as well as Haunted Honeymoon. I’ll be posting about both of them very soon.
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