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Hanky Panky (1982)

Give me a close up of Gene Wilder on screen and I’m obligated to laugh. His frizzled hair and eyes with a crazy look never fail to strike my funny bone. Even if the film could be better.

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In Hitchcock tradition Gene Wilder fills in for Cary Grant as a man who climbs into a cab at the same time as a woman on the run with an envelope in her hand. Gene’s all for flirting and picking her up but she has more on her mind than a quick roll in the sack. Problems are about to confront Wilder. Mostly in the form of Richard Widmark.

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It seems that Kathleen Quinlan who shared the cab with Wilder was fleeing from Widmark and his goons. She has information that certain people want and they have hired Widmark to get it. The next time Wilder bumps into her she’s been shot and in classic fashion he picks up the gun as she dies in his arms. Before he knows it he’s on the run as a wanted killer.

Into his life walks another surprise. Gilda Radner. There is a mystery about her but he takes her word that she’s a reporter and believes that Gene’s story will be her ticket to fame. The two of them are trying to stay one step ahead of Widmark and get to the mysterious envelope that Quinlan mailed before she was eliminated.

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There are plenty of chances for Gene Wilder to do his comedy routines here. Whether it’s frolicking with Radner, walking down a busy street in a house coat with his briefs on full display or evading Widmark’s goons he’s always going for laughs. Just the way I like him.

Gene and Gilda would make three films together and were of course married. Sadly she passed away at age 42 in 1989. Their other two collaborations are The Lady in Red and Haunted Honeymoon.

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This was actually directed by Sidney Poitier who had also directed Gene in the smash hit Stir Crazy in 1980. Interestingly the villain here played by Richard Widmark goes all the way back to the origins of Sidney’s Hollywood career. In 1950, Poitier made his film debut in the Noir film No Way Out.

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Richard Widmark played one of his nastier characters in that film who is a racist and wants nothing better than to kill Sidney. They also worked together in The Bedford Incident and The Long Ships in the mid sixties.

For those interested, Wilder’s character is named Michael Jordan and check out the attendant in a scene at a hotel. William Sadler it is.

While this film is passable I just think it could have been trimmed by about fifteen minutes and tightened up a notch without sacrificing the comedic genius of Wilder and Radner. Hard to believe I haven’t seen this title since I went to the drive in as a kid with my Mother way back in the days when drive ins were much more accessible.

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