Yesterday, the world lost a true talent when Gene Wilder passed away due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease. A fundamental part of many’s childhoods with his brilliant portrayal of Roald Dahl’s iconic Willy Wonka; he also became a part of our older years in many famous comedies. The man brought a smile to many faces, and in this feature we have a look at some of his most prominent and exciting roles over the years of his career.
In 1968, Wilder starred as the relentlessly paranoid accountant Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ satirical comedy musical, The Producers. Within this role – which was one of the earliest in Wilder’s career – the actor proved his talent for bringing exuberant characters to life with all the comic timing and verve that he would later become renowned for. Although Bloom is the architect of the grand scheme to make money from a Broadway flop, he is endlessly nervous and prone to extreme panic attacks. In his performance, Wilder showed his genuine aptitude for hyperbolic comedy – with the ‘blue blanket’ scene being particularly funny. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination and is among the most acclaimed comic performances of all time.
words by Anneka Honeyball
If only a few films could be marked as staples of my childhood, Young Frankenstein would, without doubt, be one of them. Growing up on cult horror and odd titles, a great deal of my childhood was filled with films of the more weird and wonderful variety than films of the more cool and classic realm. Satirical films were in a particular abundance; Airplane!, Johnny English, and, of course, Young Frankenstein.
Parodying the horror genre, Young Frankenstein follows Doctor Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Frun-ken-steen, of no apparent relation to the infamous doctor – OR IS HE???), played by Gene Wilder, as he inherits his grandfather’s mansion in Transylvania and begins to recreate the experiments of his grandfather’s legacy, resulting in a very monstrous conclusion.
Made at one of the peaks of Wilder’s career, Young Frankenstein remains at the top of the satirical film pyramid, with one liners, off-comments and zingers to rival that of Airplane!, and became one of the most quoted comedy films of all time. Written also by Wilder, he is and will always be the driving force of the film. The over-dramatic speeches, the gravitas in his voice, the hilarious dialogue – all of it comes down to him, making his Doctor Frankenstein one of the most memorable horror villains of all. Move over Dracula, the werewolf, Jar Jar Binks – the legacy belongs to Wilder.
words by Sophie Trenear
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Following the story of a blind man (Richard Pryor) and a deaf man (Gene Wilder), who both witness a murder. Except one didn’t see it and one didn’t hear it. They’re suspected of the crime and their mission is to clear their name.
The comic timing and exceptional acting makes me wonder how Wilder is such an underrated comedic actor. And I love that they didn’t hold back on joking around with the deafness and blindness, how Pryor tries to look like he’s reading a newspaper when it’s upside down and Wilder is asked ‘What, are you deaf?!’ when he’s standing in the middle of the road with cars beeping. As someone who is deaf it was my first time seeing it portrayed in the media and I really enjoyed the way they joked with it.
My absolute favourite part is such a silly scene, but it’s where Wilder is having a mugshot taken and being told to stay still. He can’t read the woman’s lips so Pryor taps him and tells him to stay still – so he does! While facing the wrong way. So many misread lips… Fuzzy Wuzzy WAS a woman.
words by Carly-May Kavanagh
Gene Wilder is a certified legend of comedy, no doubt about it, and in my opinion Mel Brooks’ 1974 western satire Blazing Saddles stands as his best. As Jim, the former gunslinger turned drunkard, Wilder has a number of excellent lines (“What’s your pleasure? What do you like to do?”/Oh, I don’t know. Play chess… screw…”; “Oh no, don’t do that, don’t do that. If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad”) and his psychical performance is completely on point, both with his delivery and his movements, he works wonders on screen with his partner in crime Cleavon Little also.
But not only is Wilder such a memorable part of Blazing Saddles, the rest of the ensemble is a real tour-de-force of comedy; Harvey Korman, the aforementioned Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens, Mel Brooks… the list goes on, each playing their part fantastically. The film is immensely quotable (“Where the white women at?”, “Stampeding Cattle”/”That’s not much of a crime”/”Through the Vatican?”/”Kinkyyy”, “Mongo only pawn… in game of life”) and the direction is brilliant – the climatic fourth wall break is simply fantastic and has rarely been topped in comedy since. Simply put, Blazing Saddles is one of the greatest comedies of all time.
It’s such a shame to see Wilder go, but with a career such as his which includes excellent films like this, he’s left one hell of a legacy behind.
words by David Mitchell-Baker
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother
In 1975, Wilder made his directorial debut with another musical comedy, based on his own original script. The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is a spoof of the Conan-Doyle canon and follows the infamous detective’s younger, smarter brother Sigerson Holmes (played by Wilder), as he attempts to solve a case in his sibling’s stead. Although the film is in its very nature a spoof, the attention to detail and knowledge of Conan-Doyle’s original characters is remarkably sound. The film also featured a well-known Holmes and Watson pairing, played by Douglas Wilmer and Thorley Walters. It’s a surreal experience, fronted by a surreal, yet oddly grounded performance by Wilder.
words by Anneka Honeyball
The only real exposure I got to experience in regards to Gene Wilder was his performance as Willy Wonka. Even though said performance still scares the crap out of me to this day, it never stops me from being captivated by his unique performance.
However, my Mum is a huge Gene Wilder fan – more so for his comedic roles opposite Richard Pryor. That’s where Stir Crazy comes in. I haven’t seen whole film, but it’s always the go to film that my Mum talks about whenever Wilder is brought up in conversation. She’s shown me clip after clip of his manic yet hilarious performance opposite Pryor, which never fails at making me cry laughing.
words by Sophie McEvoy
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Too Afraid to Ask)
In Woody Allen’s 1972 comedy, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Too Afraid to Ask), Wilder’s comic charm was really put to the test in his role as a doctor who falls in love with his patient’s partner…. who just so happens to be a sheep. Yes. A sheep. The segment of the film, entitled ‘What is Sodomy?’, is surreal and slightly disturbing, but also riotously funny. Although Wilder’s performance starts rather strait-laced and serious, it soon dissolves into something that’s both seamlessly genuine and amusing. In a career earmarked by exuberant and strangely nuanced performances, this is one of Wilder’s more underrated gems.
words by Anneka Honeyball
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder was best known for his iconic role as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film follows five children, including young Charlie Bucket, who win golden tickets from Wonka chocolate bars, earning them a visit to the chocolate factory owned by the eccentric Willy Wonka.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a now a classic family film, and is remembered for its bizarre moments, crazy characters and wonderful music. Wilder’s Wonka is quirky to say the least. He’s a showman and a master of trickery who taunts his visitors with treats at every corner. Although he seems a bit too strange for some, there’s a reason for everything he does, in his quest to find the most worthy child.
Gene Wilder will always be remembered for his unique portrayal of Wonka, in bringing to life the character from the Roald Dahl book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
words by Hollie Geraghty