Stir Crazy (film)

Stir Crazy is a 1980 American comedy film directed by Sidney Poitier, produced by Hannah Weinstein and written by Bruce Jay Friedman.[2] The film stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor as unemployed friends who are given 125-year prison sentences after being framed for a bank robbery. While in prison they befriend other prison inmates. The film reunited Wilder and Pryor who had appeared previously in the 1976 comedy thriller film Silver Streak. The film was released in the United States on December 12, 1980 to mixed critical reviews and was a major financial success.

Stir Crazy
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySidney Poitier
Produced byHannah Weinstein
Written byBruce Jay Friedman
Music byTom Scott
CinematographyFred Schuler
Edited byHarry Keller
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 12, 1980 (1980-12-12)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[1]
Box office$101 million (USA)


Film writer Skip Donahue (Wilder) and actor Harry Monroe (Pryor) are both fired from their jobs in New York City and leave for Hollywood. Along the way, they take odd jobs to make money. During one such job in Arizona, Skip and Harry perform a song and dance routine dressed as woodpeckers as part of a promotion for a bank. While the duo are on break, two men steal the costumes and rob the bank. However, Harry and Skip are arrested, whisked through a speedy trial and handed 125-year jail sentences. Their court-appointed lawyer, Len Garber, advises them to wait until he can appeal their case.

Life in a maximum-security prison proves troublesome for Skip and Harry. After a failed attempt at faking insanity, they make friends with Jesus Ramirez, a bank robber, and Rory Schultebrand, a gay man who killed his stepfather, and meet inmates such as contrabandist Jack Graham, ax murderer Blade and intimidating mass murderer Grossberger.

Strangely, while Harry is understandably terrified of the brutality of the guards and inmates, Skip seems to be optimistic and happy about the situation. At one point, the guards put Skip in a small, dark box for a few days of solitary confinement expecting to find him a crazy mess when they bring him out. Instead he asks them for one more day as he "was just beginning to get into [himself]".

Three months later, Skip and Harry are brought to see Warden Walter Beatty and Deputy Warden Wilson, the head guard. They wish to run a "test" with Harry and Skip on a mechanical bull in the warden's office. To everyone's surprise, Skip rides the bull at full power, so Beatty selects him to compete in the prison's annual rodeo competition.

Jesus and Rory inform Harry and Skip of the truth behind the rodeo: it is a crooked operation run by Beatty and Warden Henry Sampson, who heads the neighboring prison. The money from the rodeo, which is supposed to go to the prisoners, ends up in the wardens' pockets. Knowing Skip will be selected as the prison's new champion, Jesus and Rory hatch a plan for escape involving Skip refusing to participate. This backfires as the warden orders Wilson to "straighten Skip out", and the guards torture Skip and Harry. However, this too fails; as Skip continues to enjoy himself and when the guards suspend Skip from the floor with manacles in one of the cells they only succeed in fixing his bad back injury that he got from riding the mechanical bull earlier.

Harry and Skip are visited by Garber, who introduces them to his partner in the mission to prove them innocent, his cousin Meredith, to whom Skip is immediately attracted. Later, Skip meets with Beatty to make a deal. In exchange for his participation in the rodeo, Skip requests his own crew (Harry, Jesus, Rory and Grossberger), along with a larger jail cell. Beatty agrees, telling Wilson to have a guard watch them at all times. Wilson reveals to the guard, Graham, that Skip will not leave the rodeo alive.

While practicing for the rodeo, Skip, Harry, Jesus, Rory, and Grossberger acquire tools they need for their escape, using the prison's metal shop to transform them into seemingly everyday items. Meredith gets a job as a waitress in a country western strip club searching for possible suspects and encounters the real crooks. She calls Garber and the police.

The rodeo begins, but attempts to kill Skip fail. During the major events, each member of Skip's team escape through a secret opening, taking them through air vents to either a restroom where Jesus' wife provides them disguises, or through a vent to a hollow pushcart manned by Jesus' brother. Once through, they put on their disguises and re-enter the grounds as audience members.

Skip is to compete against champion Caesar Geronimo to swipe the prize: a bag of money from the horns of a large, Brahman bull. Skip asks Caesar if he is tired of being his warden's stooge, suggesting that they give the money to the prisoners and offering to help Caesar win if he agrees to do so. Both contestants play hard, but Caesar wins. Inspired by Skip, Caesar throws the bag to the inmates. Skip prepares his escape through the secret opening, but Graham shows up, suspicious. Grossberger knocks Graham out and Skip escapes into the pushcart. The group drive off.

At a secret meeting spot, Jesus and Rory bid Harry and Skip farewell as they leave for Mexico. Harry and Skip get in the other car, only to be stopped by a car containing Garber and Meredith. She tells Harry and Skip that the police have captured the real crooks. Harry and Skip decide to resume their original plan of heading to Hollywood. Skip asks Meredith to go with him, and Meredith agrees.



The film was shot in Manhattan, New York; Burbank, California; St. George, Utah[3] Florence and Tucson, Arizona in 56 days from February 15 to April 11, 1980.


Stir Crazy has a 67% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 15 reviews.[4] It was a box office success, setting a record opening week for Columbia Pictures of $12,972,131[5] and grossing a total of $101,300,000,[6] being the third-highest-grossing film of 1980, behind The Empire Strikes Back and 9 to 5.[7]

The box office total marked the first time a film directed by an African-American earned more than $100 million.[8]

Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four and wrote that it "starts strong," but "once Wilder and Pryor are thrown into prison, it seems to lose its way," as "the movie gets bogged down in developing its own plot. That is not always the best thing for a comedy to do, because if we're not laughing it hardly matters what happens to the plot."[9] Vincent Canby of The New York Times panned the film as "a prison comedy of quite stunning humorlessness" which "appears to have been improvised, badly, more often than written."[10] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Sidney Poitier has directed 'Stir Crazy' as if it were as much fun as his previous comedies—e.g., 'Uptown Saturday Night.' But no amount of bouncy good-naturedness can disguise the stretched-thin quality of the material."[11] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune was positive, giving the film three stars out of four and writing, "There are explosively funny moments in this prison comedy that wouldn't be there without Pryor, who radiates a comic energy in a scene even when he's merely standing still."[12] Variety wrote, "The extensive comic talents of Richard Pryor take a below average film like 'Stir Crazy' and make it into an often funny and saleable picture."[13] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also liked the film, stating that it "blends several inventive, high-spirited performing talents into a tangy, cheerful entertainment."[14] David Ansen of Newsweek found the film "only intermittently funny," remarking that writer Bruce Jay Friedman is "trying for a formula film and can't land on the right formula. Is it a buddy movie, a caper comedy, a parody of prison films, an urban-cowboy neo-Western, a New York vs. Sun Belt comedy? Unfortunately it's more of a shambles than any of the above, albeit a fairly genial one."[15]

The film was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress for Georg Stanford Brown in drag.[16]

Music star Darius Rucker has viewed the film over 1000 times which amounts to about 83 days of viewing time.

See also


  1. Epstein, Andrew (12 May 1980). "A PRYOR DECISION STIRS CONTROVERSY". Los Angeles Times. p. g5.
  2. "Stir Crazy". TCM database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  3. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  4. "Pryor and Wilder Inside in 'Stir Crazy'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  5. "Stir Crazy advertisement". Variety. January 21, 1983. p. 22.
  6. "Stir Crazy (1980)". Box Office Mojo. 1982-01-01. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  7. "1980 DOMESTIC GROSSES". Retrieved 1 January 2011.
  8. George, Nelson (2004). Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant, and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans {Previously Known as Blacks and Before That Negroes}. Viking. p. 18. ISBN 0670032751.
  9. Ebert, Roger (December 15, 1980). "Stir Crazy". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  10. Canby, Vincent (December 12, 1980). "Movie: Pryor and Wilder Inside in 'Stir Crazy'". The New York Times. C10.
  11. Thomas, Kevin (December 13, 1980). "'Stir Crazy': Not Too Laughable". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 8.
  12. Siskel, Gene (December 16, 1980). "'Stir Crazy': Prison film is a riot thanks to Pryor". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 5.
  13. "Film Reviews: Stir Crazy". Variety. December 3, 1980. 24.
  14. Arnold, Gary (December 12, 1980). "Slapstick in the Slammer". The Washington Post. E1.
  15. Ansen, David (December 15, 1980). "Lives of a Cell". Newsweek. 111.
  16. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
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