Top 5 Gene Wilder Films
2016 has sadly taken another one. At the age of 83, Gene Wilder passed away on Monday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. With the sad news, we felt we had to do some sort of tribute to him. If you’re anything like us, he was an essential part of our growing up and he exemplified a certain kind of crazed comic intensity that we see in so many comedic actors todays. So without further ado, here’s our run-down of our top 5 favourite Gene Wilder films. May he Rest in Peace.
5) The Producers (1967)
While Wilder had small roles in some TV shows and had a minor part in Bonnie and Clyde, his big break came with his first in a long line of collaborations with Mel Brooks. In The Producers, Wilder played a highly strung accountant named Leo Bloom. The role was originally meant to go to Peter Sellars before he dropped out, and thank the Lord he did. Wilder co-stars opposite Zero Mostel as the pair hitch a plan to hustle wannabe theatrical producers on Broadway. One of Wilder’s real strengths was his ability to play off another actor, and the two leads here zing the one-liners with energy and intensity. Wilder is mesmerising and the role earned him an Academy Award nomination.
4) Stir Crazy (1980)
‘Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor dress up in bird costumes and get framed for robbing a bank.’ Even on paper the plot for Stir Crazy is perfect. But that doesn’t tell half the story of this iconic buddy-comedy with set-pieces that will have you struggling for air. Wilder and Pryor were first cast together in Silver Streak, and while it’s extremely funny in places, we just can’t get past Wilder in blackface. Luckily there’s none of that in Stir Crazy – just two friends flipping out at the thought of spending one more night in prison. Sidney Poitier’s comedy is quite simply perfect.
3) Young Frankenstein (1974)
The second Mel Brooks collaboration on our list, Young Frankenstein is an all-time comedy classic… “It’s pronounced Fron-ken-steen!” The cross-genre monster comedy paved the way for basically all the horror spoofs we see today (probably unfortunately), with the mad scientist character giving Wilder some room to play, including an unforgettable scene where Wilder dances with his lumbering creation to ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. Genius.
2) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
For many of us of a certain age, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was our first exposure to the wonder of Wilder, and for us it’s probably his finest ever performance. Wilder’s ability to change the pace of a scene/dialogue at the drop of a cane is staggering. And while the cult classic will quite rightfully be remembered for Oompa Loompas and his immortal ‘Pure Imagination’ performance, it also showcased Wilder’s ability to deliver scenes of real intensity – as he does when banishing Charlie from the factory during the film’s finale. Apparently, Roald Dahl didn’t much like Wilder’s version of the eccentric sweet-maker. We humbly disagree, Mr Dahl.
1) Blazing Saddles (1974)
But the top spot on our list goes to Wilder’s finest work with Mel Brooks and Blazing Saddles. Yes, it is silly. But my word is it gut-bustingly funny. Satirising the racial politics of the US, as well as making a mockery of the classic Western in the meantime, Blazing Saddles is as close to the bone as a comedy can get. Wilder plays Jim, an aging alcoholic gunslinger otherwise known as the Waco Kid. In true Wilder fashion, our hero is far from the norm and the film follows a similar trend with surreal shtick coming thick and fast. If you’ve not seen Blazing Saddles, the clip below should be enough to entice you…