Sadly, we lost another wonderful performer this week. One that brought joy and laughter into our lives with a natural and unfettered ease that's so rare to find in this modern age of shticks and one-dimensional comedians. Gene Wilder lost his battle with Alzheimer's Disease at the age of 83. Delivering many iconic roles throughout his career, I've decided to devote August's movie list of the month to best performances from Gene Wilder (July's list). Yet, since I was only born in 1983, I admittedly haven't seen all of Wilder's work. Therefore, my list only comprises of those roles in which I've had the distinct pleasure of enjoying. So here they are, the best performances from another lost legend of Hollywood:
Honorable Mention: The Frisco Kid, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy
#5. Blazing Saddles (1974)
Comedy is a universal language. And when it comes to Mel Brooks' controversial comedy Western, Blazing Saddles, the laughs are in endless supply. A western town is blocking a railroad and Hedley Lamarr will stop at nothing to make the place unlivable to drop the price of the land. And following the death of the town's sheriff, Lamarr convinces the governor to appoint the first African American to the job (Cleavon Little) who proves to be a worthy adversary to Lamarr. Wilder co-stars as Jim the Waco Kid, a recovering alcoholic and gunslinger who helps the new sheriff restore order to the town and foil the evil plan of Lamarr. The blatant racial humor scattered throughout Blazing Saddles certainly wouldn't work nowadays, yet Wilder and the rest of the cast do a wonderful job of making light of all these racial undertones in this Mel Brooks comedy classic.
#4. See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
Now that both Gene Wilder and his comedic partner-in-crime, Richard Pryor, have both passed, it's important to note that we lost a pair of pioneers that paved the way for other comedy duos such as Chris Farley & David Spade, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and countless others. Perhaps their most memorable collaboration came from the riotous film, See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Two men witness a murder, Dave (Wilder) who is deaf and Wally (Pryor) who is blind. They must work together beyond their limitations to save themselves and bring justice to the killers. The laughs are phenomenal in this unforgettably nostalgic film from my youth.
#3. The Producers (1967)
Some of you might not be aware that the 2005 comedy musical, The Producers, was actually a remake. The 1967 original was another film from the hysterical mind of Mel Brooks. His collaborations with Gene Wilder always seemed to set the bar for comedies throughout the 60s and 70s. The film follows a theatrical producer and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Wilder), who discover they can make a fortune by producing a guaranteed flop. Wilder is exceptional in his supporting role, which also happened to be his only Oscar-nominated performance throughout his career. The original far exceeds its recent remake, so I highly recommend checking out another laugh-out-loud effort from Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.
#2. Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder tandem continues on with the outrageously funny and legendary comedy, Young Frankenstein. While Gene Wilder's performance never landed him in the Oscar discussion, and not to anyone's surprise, he did earn an Oscar nod for his writing credit on the film alongside Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein follows Dr. Frankenstein (Wilder), the grandson of the infamous scientist, who ventures to Transylvania and discovers how to reanimate a corpse. Although he's certainly not alone, thanks to fine supporting work from Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman, Wilder's fantastically humorous performance helps transform Young Frankenstein into a comedy classic.
#1. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
It's impossible to deny Gene Wilder's magical performance as the titular character in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as the most notable of his career. Famous candy maker and recluse, Willy Wonka (Wilder), shocks the world when he announces a factory tour to 5 random winners. And When a poor boy name Charlie finds the final golden ticket, he embarks on a remarkable tour of Wonka's whimsical factory. Throughout the film Wilder manages to create a once in a lifetime character that proves the late-great actor's amazing range with fun-filled humor and earnest dramatics. Gene Wilder is another sadly lost acting talent, but his memory will live on forever thanks to his timeless work as Willy Wonka.