The picture grossed 101.3 million dollars at the box-office in the U.S., making it the third highest grossing movie of 1980, behind 9 to 5 (1980) and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Second of four star teamings of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The others being Another You (1991), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Silver Streak (1976). Additionally, both were involved in Blazing Saddles (1974), Richard behind-the-scenes (as a co-writer) and Gene on the screen (as Jim, "The Waco Kid").
The first movie directed by an African-American to gross over one hundred million dollars in North America.
Arizona State Prison officials used the money given to rent out their facilities to construct a rodeo arena of their own. With the movie's plot twist of a prison rodeo, life imitated art. For two years, Warden Robert Raines of the Arizona State Prison had tried to organize such a rodeo. The major obstacle was the cost of constructing an arena, complete with grandstand, stables, and livestock chutes. When Columbia Pictures inquired about renting the facility, the warden saw it as a way to realize his dream. Provided that security could be maintained, the prison was available for a fee which, hardly by coincidence, matched the budget for the new rodeo grounds. Raines said: "There was a fringe benefit we didn't anticipate. Morale in the prison was never higher. Some three hundred fifty inmates signed on as extras, playing themselves, and the rest, even the most notorious troublemakers, stayed on their best behavior. There were simply no incidents."
According to Greg Ferrara at Turner Classic Movies, "Pryor was constantly late to the set, sometimes showing up at noon, as much as four hours late. His bodyguard later admitted to Pryor's agent, David Franklin, that Pryor was freebasing cocaine every night during the shoot. This made the star's behavior erratic and paranoid.
The cast and crew had to leave the prison walking in single file every night so the prison guards could ensure that no prisoners escaped. One night, Charles Weldon was mistaken for a prisoner by the guards, pulled out of the line and sent to the cell block. Weldon recalled one occasion: "As I was walking out, a guard asked me to stand to one side. I should have realized something was wrong, but I obeyed him without a second thought." A moment later, Weldon found himself marched toward a cell block, along with the jail inmate extras. Weldon added: "The guard told me, 'I could have sworn you were one of our guys. He was profusely apologetic. But I didn't mind. To an actor, there couldn't have been a higher compliment." Fortunately, the film's Production Coordinator noticed that one of the actors was missing, and rushed back to the prison to vouch for Weldon.
As an MIT graduate, Erland van Lidth was apparently allowed to wear the famous "brass rat" graduation ring during filming. You can see it most clearly in his scene in the metal shop when he bends the metal bar.
"Their initiation to prison life is funny because it's also so scary", said Director Sidney Poitier, who returned to movie-making with this movie after a two-year hiatus to write his autobiography. Poitier added: "It's a fulfillment of a fear virtually every law-abiding citizen has experienced. What if through no fault of your own, you are suddenly thrown in the can, surrounded by muggers, murderers, the dregs of society? How do you cope?"
Of the four movies in which Pryor and Wilder teamed, this was the most successful of the four at the box-office.
Gene Wilder said of this movie: "It's a very funny concept. But what makes it work is a hard edge of reality, a sense of the frustration and the potential for violence, which exists in prison. It sets off the craziness Richard and I indulge in. The credit for that goes to Sidney Poitier, who knows actors, loves actors, and cast the characters in this film as ingeniously as any director I've ever worked with."
The character of Warden Walter Beatty (Barry Corbin) was frequently referred to in the movie as "Warden Beatty", as this spoofed the name of Warren Beatty.
This movie was the sixth film that Sidney Poitier directed, but it was the first one in which he also did not star.
For Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, this movie marked a resumption of the comic rapport that began when the pair played opposite, and off, each other in Silver Streak (1976). Pryor said: "Certain actors just naturally connect with each other. After the fun we had in Silver Streak (1976), the only question was when, not if, we would put it together again." Wilder expressed it his own way: "Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that 'Stir Crazy' is an out-and-out comedy, while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance." Pryor interjected: "You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball, but this one is Wilder." Wilder responded: "You might", needles Wilder, "But you'll say anything."
After the box-office success of this movie, Sidney Poitier, Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor were meant to re-team for Hanky Panky (1982). That movie re-teamed Wilder and Pryor for their second and final collaboration. However, according to "DVD Verdict", "For some reason, Pryor backed out, and his part was re-written into a female lead, for Gilda Radner."
Richard Pryor's first million dollar paycheck movie. Moreover, Pryor received points to the value of ten percent of the gross. However, Gene Wilder received top billing, Pryor got second billing. In their two final movies, Another You (1991) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), Pryor would get first billing over Wilder.
And in what is easily - and literally - the film's heaviest acting challenge, "Erland Van Lidth de Jeude" (Erland van Lidth) as a 6'6" high three hundred pound heavy homicidal maniac called "Grossberger", who is maliciously made the duo's cellmate, in the hopes that he will massacre them. de Jeude, was an MIT graduate in computer science, who accidentally turned to acting while en route to an operatic career, admitted that he is grateful to Director Sidney Poitier, who allowed him to read the script during filming. He said: "When I did Woody Allen's new picture, I never knew the title or what it was about."
Two similar incidents made Richard Pryor almost nearly quit the film. According to Gene Wilder's autobiography, one day during filming, the craft service department was serving watermelon and some of the crew members began playfully throwing pieces of it at each other. A piece of watermelon landed at Pryor's feet. Pryor returned to the film after the crew member that threw the piece was fired. Another incident, almost shut down the whole film, although the views of what actually happened are different for each witness. According to the biography, "If I Stop, I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor", by Dennis A. Williams and John A. Williams, Pryor "claimed that members of the crew were driving out to the house where he was staying, two hours away from the film's Arizona prison location, and shooting at him. One day, he said, a crew member dropped a watermelon from a ladder near him, and that was the last straw. He walked off the set and vowed not to go back." These were mostly due to Pryor accusing the crew of racism, as the eating of watermelon is considered a stereotype of African-Americans.
The film's title is from an expression which is similar to the meaning of "cabin fever", itself the title of a 2002 movie. Wikipedia defines "stir crazy" as being "a phrase that dates to 1908 according to the Oxford English Dictionary and the online Etymology Dictionary. Used among inmates in prison, it referred to a prisoner who became mentally unbalanced because of prolonged incarceration. It is based upon the slang stir (1851) to mean prison."
Publicity for this picture at the time of release stated that it was the Columbia Pictures' third biggest hit in the studio's history, running behind only Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
One of five movies where Gene Wilder played a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The others being Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).
The movie traded on Gene Wilder's western-comedy screen persona from Blazing Saddles (1974). It did this by making Wilder a hero at riding a rodeo mechanical bull, even labelling Wilder at one point, an "urban cowboy". This was not the first movie to connect with Wilder's western comic image, as The Frisco Kid (1979) had also done this.
The lyrics of the woodpecker jingle sung at the bank go: "Oh!, you'll save money! Knock on wood! When you do what a good woodpecker should! Save for a horse or a brand new ranch, when you flock to the Glenboro Savings Branch! You can feather your nest with frills! Fill your garage with Coupe de Villes! Just relax if you have a big bill! What you can do...be a smart bird too! You little pecker, you!"
The movie took in over one hundred million dollars in the U.S. its first few months, making the film, at the time, one of few films to have amassed at the box-office, a gross that had gone into nine digits.
Sidney Poitier was determined to film at a real "working" prison. That was easier said than done. Prison officials are generally reluctant to throw open their clanging gates to filmmakers on the grounds that while actors and technicians are swarming in, the permanent residents may be wandering out. Usually, such scenes were shot in abandoned jails, like the Lincoln Jail in downtown Los Angeles, where the paraphernalia of crime and punishment are kept in well-oiled working order for the purpose.
JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson appeared in Poltergeist (1982) and Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986).
The nickname of the group of bank robbers was "The Woodpecker Gang". As Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor dressed up as woodpeckers in this movie, as well as go to prison, there has long being an association of the pair's characters being "jailbirds" in the film, but the two are never actually seen in the jail wearing birdsuits. In fact, Richard Pryor refused to wear the woodpecker costume for the bank scene, so a double was used in the film, but he did wear it for the poster and promotional pictures.
The prison numbers of jailbirds Skip (Gene Wilder) and Harry (Richard Pryor) were 65984 and 65985 respectively. The length of Skip and Harry's prison sentence was one hundred twenty-five years.
The prison unit which the majority of the prison scenes were filmed in is Central Unit, located in Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence.
The tower that is directly in the middle of the cell block where Skip and Harry are placed was built solely for the movie. It still remains in the cell block (Cell Block 2), but it is never used.
The film was released in the same year as the similarly titled Australian prison picture Stir (1980).
How do the film's lead characters cope in prison? In Richard Pryor's case, the answer was obvious. As he pointed out to a paranoid, petrified Gene Wilder, when in stir, do as the stirrees. Pryor said: "You gotta be baaaad", he advises, as they enter a holding cell which the film's press kit said resembled nothing so much as the locker room below the Roman Coliseum during Caligula's reign. Pryor said: "Walk baaaad, talk baaaad, look baaaad, and nobody's gonna hassle you". Wilder obeys. He struts. He snarls. He narrows his eyes like Bogart gazing at the last plane to Marseilles. But somehow, he just didn't have the rhythm.
One of two 1980 movies featuring a mechanical bull. The other was Urban Cowboy (1980). Gene Wilder is even labelled an "urban cowboy" in one scene. Columbia Pictures featured one in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003).
On a crisp March morning, around ninety newcomers were inducted into the maximum security cell block at the Arizona State Penitentiary in Florence. Leading the way were Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They were in the slammer, for a two-week stretch, filming off-the-wall sequences in Stir Crazy, Columbia Pictures' comedy about a pair of show biz hopefuls who are stranded in a small town and framed as bank robbers.
The film has been memorable for being the one where Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor wear woodpecker suits. Burt Reynolds did the same in Stroker Ace (1983), though that movie was not a hit like this film was.