One of my earliest movie memories is of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka riding through a tunnel in a boat. If you’ve seen “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” you know what scene I’m talking about. Wonka takes his visitors on a psychedelic ride, and chants a creepy rhyme that stands your hair on end. A chicken gets its head cut off. You’re pretty sure everyone is about to die.
That was Gene Wilder’s unique skill: he could be absolutely absorbing and electric on screen, capable of putting you on edge with his maniacal energy. It could be terrifying and fun, like in that “Willy Wonka” scene, or it could be hilariously over-the-top, like in “The Producers,” when he comes up with the idea for “Springtime for Hitler.” He was like Will Ferrell crossed with Nicolas Cage.
There’s an extraordinary supercut on YouTube that demonstrates Wilder’s remarkable skill across his career. It has shining moments from everything from under-seen comedies like “Start the Revolution Without Me” to his classics “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles.” Check it out:
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