See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) Selected by Chris Hewitt, Associate Editor (Re.view)
The third collaboration between Wilder and Richard Pryor, See No Evil, Hear No Evil never quite lives up to the promise of its high concept — Pryor is blind, Wilder is deaf; they’re framed for murder — and is often crass. But it has its moments. There’s the infamous scene where Wilder holds a naked Joan Severance at gunpoint, only for the bulge in his pocket to be revealed as a boner. Then there’s the farcical car chase with Pryor driving, Wilder navigating, and everyone else ducking for cover.
But the film’s standout comes immediately afterwards, when Pryor’s Wally is trying to saw through the handcuffs of Wilder’s Dave. Suddenly, he has a thought: can Dave really hear nothing? What if he tries shouting right into Dave’s ear? And so he does, prompting Dave to break down, as if he’s had an emotional epiphany. “Did it work?” asks Wally. Dave leans in. “NO! SCHMUCK!” he yells. “I’M DEAF! NOW DO YOU GET IT?”
Nobody could work themselves into a frenzy quite like Wilder, and that ability is on full display here. First, there’s his beatific expression as Wally shouts in his ear — how Wilder managed to keep a straight face as Pryor bellowed at him from six inches away is a marvel — and then comes the fury, that instantly recognisable voice rising several octaves to a strangulated scream. It’s also a joke, unlike most others in Arthur Hiller’s film, that isn’t poking fun at either Dave or Wally’s disabilities — of course, it stems from Dave’s deafness, but here he’s completely in control of the situation. Wilder reportedly only agreed to take the film on if he were allowed to rewrite the screenplay, and it’s not hard to imagine that this rare moment of quiet dignity, building to a killer punchline, came from him.