We interrupt our scheduled Woman Crush Wednesday post to dedicate today to the incomparable Gene Wilder. We here at Frock Flicks were extremely saddened to hear of Wilder’s passing on Monday — he had been a fixture in our lives since we were children, with his kind eyes and quiet manner thinly veiling a deep and complicated, and most importantly, funny interior world. His roles in comedies were vastly understated and nuanced — while everyone was off chewing the scenery, there would be Gene, a knowing smile playing across his lips, and a single look from those intensely blue eyes could have us howling with laughter one minute and the next have us pondering the darkness of the human condition.
Wilder’s break-out role as undertaker Eugene Grizzard in the 1967 landmark film Bonnie and Clyde. Supposedly set in the 1930s, it is pure late-’60s as far as costuming goes, but it is one of the seminal films of the 20th century so I’m willing to give it a pass.
Then there was Start the Revolution Without Me (1970), in which Wilder plays a double role in this two-pairs-of-twins-mixed-up-and-separated-at-birth comedy set in the waning years of the ancien regime.
Probably the most seminal movie of my generation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was a deliciously dark and twisted film. Wilder played the eponymous and dangerously enigmatic candy impresario who leads a band of children to certain doom. What’s not to love?
1974 was a big year for Wilder, with two hit films, both historical pieces and both of which went on to have massive cult followings: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, each directed by Mel Brooks, and Frankenstein co-written by Wilder as well. The two had formed a relationship nearly a decade earlier when Wilder was cast as the young accountant Leo Bloom in Brooks’ musical The Producers (1967).
And, of course, the defining moment in a film filled with defining moments:
In Blazing Saddles, Wilder was paired with Cleavon Little as the Waco Kid and Sheriff Bart, respectively. Their comedic chemistry was legendary in a film that dealt with the decidedly un-funny topic of racism. The film now occupies the top tier of pretty much every “Best Comedy Film Ever” list.
In 1975, Wilder directed and produced The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, reuniting with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in a spoof of the greatest detective of all time.
Wilder wrote, directed, and starred in another period film two years later, The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), in which he portrays Rudy Hickman, a baker-turned-actor who is set up by a Hollywood studio desperate to produce the next Rudolf Valentino.
The Frisco Kid (1979) paired Wilder with Harrison Ford in what sounds like a set-up for a bad joke: A Polish rabbi teams up with a rakish bank robber (Ford) while traveling the Old West.
What is your favorite Gene Wilder role? Share it with us in the comments!