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"Getting on the Silver Streak is easy. Staying on is the problem."
George Caldwell (Wilder) is a book editor traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago via a passenger train nicknamed the "Silver Streak". On board, he meets a vitamin salesman named Bob Sweet (Ned Beatty) and a secretary named Hilly Burns (Clayburgh), who he quickly romances. While they are trying to get intimate, George sees the body of Hilly's employer, Professor Schreiner falling off the roof. When George attempts to investigate, he too is thrown off the train. He eventually makes his way back on the train, and tells Bob Sweet what happened. Sweet reveals that he's actually an FBI agent who's been tailing international art dealer, Roger Deverau (Patrick McGoohan ), and believes that he's the one responsible for Schreiner's death. Schreiner's new book on Rembrandt would have exposed several of Deverau's prized pieces as frauds. However, Deverau's henchmen kill Sweet, and attempt to kill George who escapes the train, hoping to inform the authorities. Unfortunately, Deverau has already framed George for Sweet's death. He is able to evade the police with the aid of a thief named Grover T. Muldoon (Pryor), and must find a way back aboard the Silver Streak and rescue Hilly.
- Clear My Name: As if George didn't have enough to worry about, he's framed for Sweet's murder.
- Cool Car: The Jaguar XK-E that Grover steals from the used car lot, and the Fiat he liberates after the Union Station crash at the end.
George: Are you crazy? I thought we were gonna take the Chevy in the back?
Grover: Chevy? That's a jerk-off, man! This here is pure pussy!
George: "Pure pussy"? Tell that to the judge!
- Cool Old Lady: Lucille Benson (who specialized in that kind of role) as the crop-duster pilot who gives George a lift after he's ejected from the train the first time.
- Deadfoot Leadfoot: Deverau is killed after taking over the train, but unfortunately there's still a heavy lunchbox sitting on the gas.
- Fictional Counterpart: AMRoad, for Amtrak. The "Silver Streak" itself is presumably based on Amtrak's "Southwest Chief" train. The train scenes were actually filmed using the thinly disguised Canadian Pacific Railway "Canadian".
- Giant Mook: Reace, played by Richard Kiel.
- Henry Mancini: Provided the music score.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Scatman Crothers as the Conductor of the train.
- Fred Willard as the Chicago train station controller.
- Magic Brakes: Surprisingly accurate: uncoupling the cars causes the air lines to break, thus setting off the emergency brakes.
- Police Are Useless: George's efforts to explain Deverau's plot to The Sheriff prove ineffective.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Deverau drops the N-bomb on Grover.
- Rule of Three: George is thrown off the train three times. Each time he expresses his frustration with a loud "SONOFABITCH!!!"
- Runaway Train: Deverau has his men disable the brakes, as they prepare their escape.
- Salt and Pepper: The first of four team-ups between Wilder & Pryor.
- Shoe Shine, Mister?: The police are looking for George, so Grover buys some shoe polish from a shoeshiner at a stand at the train station to use to disguise him as a black man.
- Spiritual Successor: To North by Northwest, which the director of Silver Streak admired.
- This Is Reality: George is surprised as to how quickly a gun runs out of bullets.
- Thriller on the Express: The plot doesn't get confined to the train all the time but most is there and the events on the train generate the reasons for George not having anywhere else to go.
- Toronto Doubling: Many of the railroad station scenes (supposedly Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Chicago) were actually filmed in various parts of Union Station in Toronto. Also, Alberta stands in for the Midwest in several places.
- Traintop Battle: George has one of these against Reace about halfway through the film. (Footage from the scene, with Wilder - or rather his stunt double - dangling from an overhead railroad signal, was later incorporated into the opening credits of The Fall Guy.)
- The Windy City