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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Gene Wilder

09.05.2016
Last week, we took a look at the career of veteran character actor Stephen Lang. This week, as many of you predicted, we turn our gaze to a recently departed legend...
Gene Wilder
gene wilder willy wonka and the chocolate factory

I was pretty heartbroken when I heard Gene Wilder had passed-away. Sure, he was eighty-three and no longer really active in film, but I just liked the idea of him being out there...somewhere. With his wispy, curly hair and distinctly non-leading man looks, Wilder was a moviestar unlike any other. A writer and director in his own right, from his debut in a supporting part in BONNIE & CLYDE to his final guest turns on shows like “Will & Grace”, Wilder was a truly unique specimen.

zero mostel gene wilder the producers

I grew up watching his movies. While everyone sees WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY as a kid, for me it went much deeper than that. My dad raised me on a steady diet of Mel Brooks movies, and THE PRODUCERS, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKESTEIN were the cornerstone of my film comedy education. I loved the guy, and I was thrilled whenever a movie of his would play cable, meaning I watched things like his genius prison comedy with Richard Pryor, STIR CRAZY, over and over. I also really liked THE WOMAN IN RED (which is now mostly remembered for being the film that introduced Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”), and even a crappier entry like ANOTHER YOU got some heavy VHS play from me way back when.

gene wilder young frankenstein

Not all of his films were winners, but more often than not even obscure ones like FUNNY ABOUT LOVE were worth checking-out. Some of them, like his spoof THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER (opposite two of his best co-stars, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman), HANKY PANKY (with his late wife, Gilda Radner) or THE FRISCO KID (with Harrison Ford) are hidden gems, and I hope this column encourages some of you out there to seek them out.

His Best Work
gene wilder blazing saddles

While people will always remember Gene Wilder for WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, it’s actually not my favorite role of his. In fact, I prefer his two most famous Mel Brooks collaborations, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKESTEIN, with the edge going to the former. While it’s a two-hander with Cleavon Little, Wilder is absolutely perfect as the drunken “Waco Kid”, a lightening fast-gunslinger who becomes Sheriff Bart’s only ally in Rock Ridge. The pairing of the quiet, shy, white, milquetoast Wilder with the cool, manly, black Cleavon Little was a good preview of the kind of dynamic he’d have with Pryor (albeit somewhat warmer) and watching the two play off each other is a joy, like when they share a joint and Wilder’s voice raises several octaves, or the “get drunk, play chess, screw” response to Little’s innocent inquiry into his guest’s pleasure. God I love this movie, although it would never get made in today’s P.C culture (even if the message is a very positive one).

His Most Overrated Work
richard pryor gene wilder see no evil hear no evil

As much as I love Wilder and Pryor as a duo, their last two films were dire. Everyone knows that ANOTHER YOU is garbage, but their earlier collaboration, SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, where Wilder plays a deaf man and Pryor a blind one, is a total piece of tasteless eighties crap. The two witness a murder (Wilder sees it, Pryor hears it - yuk-yuk) and are chased around by Kevin Spacey’s (one of his first roles) British-accented assassin. Oddly, it was a sizable hit, although it’s worth remembering only for the fact that it allowed Wilder to meet his wife, who helped him research the part, and maybe Joan Severance’s awesome nude scene (yowza!).

His Most Underrated Film
richard pryor gene wilder silver streak

While STIR CRAZY is the most famous, and certainly the funniest Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor collaboration, I have a soft spot for Arthur Hiller’s SILVER STREAK. Far more of a straight-up adventure-thriller than you’d think given that it’s a Wilder/Pryor vehicle (although Pryor doesn’t come in until it’s half over), it’s a wildly entertaining flick and gives Wilder a pretty-convincing attempt to play a legitimate leading man. Sure, there are jokes, such as the not-very-P.C scene where Pryor disguises Wilder in black-face and tries to teach him how to “act black”, but for the most part it’s pretty thrilling stuff, as milquetoast Wilder finds himself embroiled in a diabolical plot (by The Prisoner’s Patrick McGoohan) that puts his love interest (the late Jill Clayburgh) in danger, resulting in a few surprisingly violent shootouts and some great chases. Even if (for some weird reason) you’re not really into Wilder’s brand of humor this is worth checking-out even if only as an action-disaster picture (Toronto’s Union Station gets demolished).

His Best Scene

Wilder had a very specific, goofy sense of humor. While he could ace a pratfall, he was lower-key than that in his more personal work. As opposed to BLAZING SADDLES, where he was a hired gun, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was his baby. The idea was originally his and he brought Mel Brooks into the writing process a bit later, although the finished film is certainly a full-on Mel Brooks masterpiece. Yet, to me the humor felt more Gene Wilder-like than Brooks-ish, particularly one of my favorite scenes, where Frankenstein (“That’s Fronc-en-stein!”) tries to pass-off his newly rehabilitated monster (an amiable Peter Boyle) as a “sophisticated, man-about-town!” as they sing “Putting on the Ritz.”

His Five Best Films

5. THE PRODUCERS
4. WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
3. STIR CRAZY
2. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
1. BLAZING SADDLES

Up Next

Wilder leaves behind a massive legacy, and his movies are required viewing if you’re serious about film. Heck, as least a few of them are full-on masterpieces, so if by chance you haven’t seen many of the movies listed here get cracking! You’re going to have a lot of fun.

Source: JoBlo.com

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5:50PM on 09/07/2016
I'm sorry to see you list See No Evil, Hear No Evil as his most overrated. I loved it as a kid (we taped it off of cable, so it was edited for "content". It wasn't until much later that I was introduced to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder was a comedic genius and the world is a lessy funny place without him.
I'm sorry to see you list See No Evil, Hear No Evil as his most overrated. I loved it as a kid (we taped it off of cable, so it was edited for "content". It wasn't until much later that I was introduced to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder was a comedic genius and the world is a lessy funny place without him.
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5:23PM on 09/05/2016
See No Evil, Hear No Evil is my favorite film of his.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil is my favorite film of his.
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4:29PM on 09/05/2016
You call yourself a Wilder fan, but talk smack about See No Evil, Hear No Evil? That movie is hilarious! You need to turn in your Joblo card. You're fired.
You call yourself a Wilder fan, but talk smack about See No Evil, Hear No Evil? That movie is hilarious! You need to turn in your Joblo card. You're fired.
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4:16PM on 09/05/2016

Wow.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil is hilarious. No way is it his Worst Work. For Shame.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil is hilarious. No way is it his Worst Work. For Shame.
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12:15PM on 09/05/2016

Great job...

on this article. I loved Wilder and most of the vehicles for his talent. While, I'd probably put Young Frankenstein above Blazing Saddles (love 'em both), I can't argue much with your ideas here.

God blessed us to know this wonderful man. My condolences to his family. He is already missed.
on this article. I loved Wilder and most of the vehicles for his talent. While, I'd probably put Young Frankenstein above Blazing Saddles (love 'em both), I can't argue much with your ideas here.

God blessed us to know this wonderful man. My condolences to his family. He is already missed.
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10:48AM on 09/05/2016
Mr. Wilder is a badass alright. His comedic timing is spot on. I'd say one of his underrated works are Haunted Honeymoon. It has its charms. But yeah, Blazing Saddles is his best work.
Mr. Wilder is a badass alright. His comedic timing is spot on. I'd say one of his underrated works are Haunted Honeymoon. It has its charms. But yeah, Blazing Saddles is his best work.
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8:12AM on 09/05/2016
Easily his most forgotten work is "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother", his directing debut, which he also wrote and starred in. It's a very bizarre movie but it's pure Gene Wilder, paired with Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, and Dom DeLousie.
Easily his most forgotten work is "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother", his directing debut, which he also wrote and starred in. It's a very bizarre movie but it's pure Gene Wilder, paired with Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, and Dom DeLousie.
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7:53AM on 09/05/2016

Wrong?

SNE, HNE wasn't a bad film. It is quite entertaining. Maybe you dislike it for other reasons? Also, best scene would be in Blazing Saddles or Willy Wonka. Puttin' on the Ritz is a better scene for Peter Boyle, in my opinion.
SNE, HNE wasn't a bad film. It is quite entertaining. Maybe you dislike it for other reasons? Also, best scene would be in Blazing Saddles or Willy Wonka. Puttin' on the Ritz is a better scene for Peter Boyle, in my opinion.
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2:46AM on 09/05/2016

I can't disagree with a single word....

I was disheartened to see you skip over Silver Streak in the first half of the article. Thankfully you added it at the end, as I too thought it was a wonderful piece of fluff that stands up even today as a passable action/comedy film. Considering the dreck that they saddled Richard Pryor with over most of his movie career, it actually holds a fond place in my heart (for both actors).

But yeah . . . his work in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles should keep him alive in film history
I was disheartened to see you skip over Silver Streak in the first half of the article. Thankfully you added it at the end, as I too thought it was a wonderful piece of fluff that stands up even today as a passable action/comedy film. Considering the dreck that they saddled Richard Pryor with over most of his movie career, it actually holds a fond place in my heart (for both actors).

But yeah . . . his work in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles should keep him alive in film history forever.
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2:20AM on 09/05/2016
I haven't seen See No Evil, Hear No Evil in years, but I used to love the movie. I love Gene Wilder because he reminds me so much of my grandfather that I thought they were the same person growing up.
I haven't seen See No Evil, Hear No Evil in years, but I used to love the movie. I love Gene Wilder because he reminds me so much of my grandfather that I thought they were the same person growing up.
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