We lost a star in the comedy firmament on August 29, 2016. I thought about getting this article out the day e passed but I wanted to make sure I had time to think about what I wanted to write, how I wanted to pay tribute, so I waited. All of that being said, Gene Wilder You Will Be Missed.
My father was a big fan of Blazing Saddles so it is no wonder that was one of the first comedies that I have ever watched. It still holds up. Every second, every minute of it all of the jokes all the slapstick it’s just almost a perfect comedy. Gene Wilder is one of the linchpins of that flick. The connection between he and Cleavon Little, his interaction with all the characters in the movie and he almost plays the straight man at times if there can be said to be a straight man role in Blazing Saddles.
After Blazing Saddles, Wilder seemed to pop up in all the movies that I enjoyed. Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka – all of those movies have Gene Wilder as this crazed leading man that he played so well. From the 60s through the 80s, all of his work with Richard Pryor included, Wilder was one of the go to actors if you were writing a comedy. He was an actor that transcended genre that stepped outside of the box.He worked differently than I lot of comedians. Taking the risky roles and at times being in movies that didn’t do as well. Even though unsuccessful roles, he still came out as the shiny star of almost anything he was in.
Personally, it seemed that his third marriage was made in heaven. He had been in three movies with Gilda Radner and their connection, their magic, their ability to play off each other surely was what drew them to be married. With Radner’s death, Wilder had a few more feature films in him, did some cameo work and some TV before retiring to focus on writing and non-profit work.
Top 5… or 6 Gene Wilder Movies
I wanted to do a traditional top 5 of my favorites but i couldn’t cut it down past 6. Below are my Top 6 Gene Wilder movies.
Blazing Saddles – Blazing Saddles was crucial to my love of movies. It taught me what a comedy should look and sound like. For his part, Wilder, in his role as the Waco Kid, made ever scene that he was in pop. If you dig into the history of the movie, he stepped in to fill the shoes of another actor that was playing the role when filming started. I really cannot imagine Blazing Saddles with Gig Young in the role of the Waco Kid rather than Gene Wilder. There is something in that smirky face that made him perfect in this role.
“What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”
Young Frankenstein – This might actually be my favorite. I have watched Young Frankenstein more times that I can count or would probably like to admit. Wilder is the straight man to the goofy-ness of all of the other characters. The crazy that he slides into throughout the movie is nothing short of genius. He and Peter Boyle… i don’t know that I can really speak to how good they are together in Young Frankenstein. Peter Boyle doesn’t utter a word but they are incredible.
“Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?”
The Adventurers of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother – This one is always the one that people haven’t seen. Wilder wrote and directed this version of the Sherlock Holmes world. He plays Sherlock’s little brother. He plays opposite Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn, having just come off the success of Young Frankenstein. Again, he is the straight man, most of the time versus the wilder, stranger personalities surrounding him. This type of role is perfect for Wilder. I particularly love the fact that he was almost an action-adventure star in this one. Jumping from carriage to carriage as the rushed through the streets of London. Sword fights with steampunk opponents and the bad guy at the very end of the movie. Just a great performance that does not get enough credit.
“Pity! Next time you decide to impersonate a music hall singer who’s been dead for the past twelve years, I suggest you learn her full repertoire! Won’t you come in, MISS LIAR?”
The Producers – Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, might be the best casting ever in the history of cinema. The first introduction to Leo Bloom is when he is coming to meet Max Bialystock and discuss accounting issues. In moments you have seen him run from normal to manic. He plays contrary to his typical role in this flick. He is not the strong person, he is not the leading man, he is the weaker personality but he might be the show stealer. His reaction to the showbiz stereotypes, from the choreographer to the writer of Spring Time for Hitler – he is awe, shock and wonder all at the same time.
“My blanket! My blue blanket! Give me my blue blanket!”
Stir Crazy – This is my favorite of the Wilder Pryor movies. Skip and Harry head west to rep for a bank and end being accused of robbing the bank they are working for. The go to jail and end up in a Prison Rodeo. How did this movie get made? Tremendous movie. They both get to spread their acting chops. Wilder and Pryor were so good together. They just meshed. Very funny, great timing, always spot on. Anything with these two in it will stop me if I am clicking through the dial on the TV. I will stop and watch it til the end, every time.
“We tried to teach him Charades! He Didn’t Get it! He just didn’t get it!”
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Where to start? Wilder as Wonka… he is the most unfriendly, non-kid movie kid movie star ever. He is a little scary, very unfeeling at times and wholly unconcerned with child safety in his factory. And one of the screen shots from the chocolate waterfall room has become one of my favorite internet memes. If you haven’t watched this movie you should be ashamed of yourself.
“There’s no earthly way of knowing, Which direction they are going…, There’s no knowing where they’re rowing Or which way the river’s flowing… Is it raining, is it snowing?, Is a hurricane a-blowing?, Not a speck of light is showing, So the danger must be growing… Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?, Is the grisly Reaper mowing?, Yes! The danger must be growing, ‘Cause the rowers keep on rowing, And they’re certainly not showing, Any sign that they are slowing!”
Very sad while I write this. I put on Blazing Saddles. That has helped. Gene Wilder, you will be missed.