A man wakes up in bed, focuses his eyes and sees the painting he has created on the opposite wall, something only he knows the meaning of. He then groggily gets up, walks out the room, out of the house and into the barn where he promptly climbs a ladder to the upper floor and hangs himself. But what does this have to do with Janet Dunn (Kathleen Quinlan), who is desperately trying to contact government man Hiram Calder (Robert Prosky) at his club in New York? She is foiled when he is poisoned just as she almost hands over a package to him, then flees the scene...
Straight into the cab of Michael Jordon, played by Gene Wilder in what would have been another comedy thriller teaming him with Richard Pryor after the success of Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, but for reasons not made public, though you can hazard a guess, Pryor bowed out of the film and Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner was drafted in to replace him, necessitating a rewrite of the script. Although watching it you can tell perhaps they didn't rewrite it quite as much as they should have, as Radner was landed a poorly conceived and practically unplayable part for a performer more used to the style of sketch comedy that had made her name.
Still, she did her best, and one thing she would be thankful for would be meeting Wilder, for she fell in love with him and made sure the feeling was mutual by the time filming was over; they had a few happy years, a couple more films, but Gilda wasn't long for the world and died after five years of marriage. Therefore Hanky Panky can be a poignant experience to watch with that in mind, but mostly what you'll be thinking was that Alfred Hitchcock would have done better with this material, for this was an attempt by director Sidney Poitier (who had helmed Stir Crazy) to latch onto the subgenre of Hitchcockian comedy thrillers patterned after North by Northwest, something which went as far back as The Prize in the early sixties.
When this example was released, it wasn't offered the best reception, flopping at the box office and with seemingly every critic in the world putting the boot in, but it really wasn't so bad, it's just that it had a lot to live up to. Radner didn't appear till half an hour in, leaving a too-frequently yelling Wilder to carry the plot as Michael helps out Janet by posting the package for her, but is then tailed by some heavies who bring him to a subway location and inject him with truth serum so he tells all he knows, which can't be very much. Then the chief baddie (ex-Poitier co-star Richard Widmark) orders Michael dead in a fake suicide, and as the serum wears off, he manages to get away and track down Janet, hoping to clear up what exactly is going on.
Although even by the end that's not entirely obvious to the audience, never mind Michael, as the plot contrives to throw up characters and twists with wild abandon with nary a thought to how much this was meant to make sense (or otherwise). So you actually had a convoluted narrative coasting on the charm of its stars as Michael goes on the run with Radner's Kate Hellman, a woman who happened to walk into the apartment of his friend which he was using, and unusually keen on helping him out. This leads to a cross country chase, although we don't get much of the cross country part, ending up in the Grand Canyon for the bit everyone remembers, the flight over that landmark in the plane where the burping pilot has a heart attack and Michael has to crash land the vehicle, though it's a mark of the movie's woolly-headedness that it's never explained whether this was a case of sabotage or not. With its eighties inclusion of computers as the MacGuffin, Hanky Panky passes muster as nostalgia these days, but it was a ramshackle affair for a big studio. Music by Tom Scott.
Confident, handsome and iconic, this American-born leading actor first made an impression in the 1950s in films such as The Blackboard Jungle, Edge of the City, The Defiant Ones (which he spent chained to Tony Curtis) and Porgy and Bess. By the sixties he was a star, appearing in A Raisin in the Sun, Lillies of the Field (for which he won an Oscar, the first black actor to do so in a leading role), The Long Ships, The Bedford Incident, To Sir With Love, racially themed thriller In the Heat of the Night and racially themed comedy Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.
By the seventies, Poitier had turned to directing, usually light comedies, with western Buck and the Preacher, Uptown Saturday Night and its sequel Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, Stir Crazy, Hanky Panky, musical Fast Forward and Bill Cosby vehicle Ghost Dad. He then concentrated on acting once more, with appearances in Shoot To Kill, Little Nikita, Sneakers and The Jackal.