Saturday, September 10, 2016

RIP Gene Wilder

He was a great comedic talent who could bring a unique spirit to any character he played.

Gene Wilder, who recently died of Alzheimer's disease at 83, skillfully walked a tightrope in playing Leo Bloom, the likeable but still rather devious accountant in Mel Brooks' 1968 movie The Producers,  and his goofy approach to the title role in 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (in which he more than held his own with masters of timing such as Jack Albertson and Roy Kinnear) ensured that he always would be Willy Wonka (sorry, Johnny Depp).   In the latter film, he perfected the message to children to be good and not do anything that could get them into trouble, and he gave Willy Wonka's psyche just the right amount of darkness.  But surprisingly, my favorite Wilder role was George Caldwell in Silver Streak, his first pairing with Richard Pryor, from 1976.  
A parody of thrillers set on passenger trains, Silver Streak concerned Wilder's character getting mixed up in murders over letters written by the great artist Rembrandt.  Wilder was everything in that role - childlike, straight-laced, a little crude - and he had some wonderful scenes with nothing more than clever lines and priceless misunderstandings (Trying to report a double murder to a local sheriff and bringing up Rembrandt, George confuses a local sheriff so much that the sheriff asks him to start over - "You can start with who shot Rembrandt!")   A guy like Wilder may have been the last person you'd pair with Richard Pryor - playing a petty thief who helps George out - but their chemistry here was so perfect, they went on to make three more movies, including the Sidney Poitier-directed Stir Crazy.
Wilder was indeed a unique talent. He will be missed.        

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