BUMPY LAND­ING

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN -

Hanky Panky (1982) Se­lected by Owen Wil­liams, con­trib­u­tor

1982’s Hanky Panky was the sec­ond of two films Gene Wilder made with direc­tor Sid­ney Poitier, fol­low­ing the al­most-clas­sic Stir Crazy. It flopped on re­lease, and now seems al­most a foot­note on the way to The Woman In Red (which Wilder di­rected him­self two years later). But it does con­tain one per­fect mo­ment of Wilder, in his unique, inim­itable way, los­ing his shit.

You can see the pitch. Hanky Panky was sup­posed to be a Hitch­cock­ian ca­per: a North

By North­west riff in­volv­ing mur­der, mis­taken iden­tity and high-level es­pi­onage. Wilder is the in­no­cent man ac­cused of killing a mys­te­ri­ous woman in pos­ses­sion of an im­por­tant Macguf­fin. As he goes on the run cross-coun­try, var­i­ous shady govern­ment types in pur­suit, he hooks up with a lady played by Gilda Rad­ner: this is the film on which the fa­mous cou­ple first met. And about an hour into pro­ceed­ings, events con­spire to place the pair on a pi­lot­less light air­craft over the Grand Canyon.

It’s all go­ing fine, with pi­lot Pat Cor­ley suf­fer­ing a grotesque belch­ing at­tack that ini­tially amuses the plane’s oc­cu­pants. Then Cor­ley dies, at which point Wilder goes into full melt­down, re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge the cri­sis de­spite Rad­ner’s in­sis­tence on the truth of what’s hap­pen­ing. “He’s dead!” she yells. “He’s not dead, he just has gas!” Wilder screams back, against the ev­i­dence of the corpse lolling next to him. What fol­lows is a mas­ter­class in sus­tained, hys­ter­i­cal ab­sur­dity, with Wilder even­tu­ally re­fus­ing to even look at the body, re­lay­ing ques­tions to the de­ceased pi­lot through the ex­as­per­ated Rad­ner. “Why didn’t he say any­thing?” “BE­CAUSE HE’S DEAD!” “Stop say­ing that!”

Some­how they land safely, and the film plods on as be­fore. But it’s one more fine trib­ute to Wilder: even in a pedes­trian project he could find a mo­ment of crazed ge­nius.

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