Recently a barista friend of mine and I were discussing the wonderfulness that is Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It was during this conversation that I uttered the words, “Gene Wilder is the best”. I mean, could you imagine a cinematic universe void of Gene Wilder? It’s not a pretty thought, right? With the tune to “If you want to view paradise” firmly stuck in my head, the conversation than shifted to how fantastic the Wild man was in all of his co-staring roles next to the great Richard Pryor, as well as his work with Mel Brooks. At some point in the conversation I realized that there were still many of this man’s filmography that I still haven’t seen and that perhaps my praise of him as a comedic great might be a little premature.
This feature serves one purpose; to honor one of my favorite actors of all time and to (re)acquaint myself with his entire body of work. Some films I may only have a paragraph or two worth of comments to make in discussing his performance, and other films I may have a short novel worth of observational musings.
Hit the jump to see my take on Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks‘ The Producers
Gene plays the tightly wound accountant, Leo Bloom. Leo is an honest and somewhat neurotic man who does everything by the books, everything, that is, until he meets the scheming producer, Max Bialystock, whose wonderfully over-emoted performance comes courtesy of Zero Mostel. But this post isn’t about a Zero, it’s about a hero – my hero of cinematic comedy – Gene Wilder. Sorry for the cheesiness, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
There’s a lot of funny to be had in this film, with the majority of it arriving within the first 30 minutes. This is where we are introduced to Wilder’s Leo character, and where his acute comedic timing start to reveal itself. One minute he’s playing straight man opposite the cartoonish scheming rhetoric of Zero and the next minute he’s running around the scene hysterical or clutching onto his childhood hankie. His shifting of emotions and reactionary facial expressions had me giddy, an emotion perhaps more suited for one in a tickle contest.
Sadly though, as the movie progresses and as soon as Wilder’s character is flushed out, it starts to lose its comedic steam – with the exception of Springtime for Hitler, of course. Still one of the funniest songs in a comedy.
All in all, this performance from the Wild man was good enough to earn him a best supporting actor nomination at the Oscars that year, I just wish he had more opportunities to let his comedy shine during the latter half of the film.
Past Wild over Wilder entries: Part 1 – Bonnie and Clyde