Tag Archives: Gene Wilder

The Set of 400: #44 – My Favorite Prince Myshkin Shoutout

Today! Because he was a better dresser than Churchill! He had more hair! He told funnier jokes! And he could dance the pants off of Churchill!

The Producers (1968)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x6)

Starring Zero Mostel (x3), Gene Wilder (x5), Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voutsinas, William Hickey (x4), Renee Taylor (x2), Estelle Winwood (x2), Barney Martin, Madelyn Cates

You know I love me some movies about plays, and really stagey ones at that, and so – The Producers! While it would take decades for Mel Brooks’ classic to actually make it to Broadway, it should come as no surprise that it made the leap pretty seamlessly. The entire first half hour of the movie is just Zero and Gene’s one room shtick to set up the plot – and wildly funny shtick it is. And with the exception of a handful of NYC street scenes, it’s just one room after another hosting wacky characters and even wackier theatrics. A few of his other films would grab Oscar nominations, but The Producers is the reason Mel is rocking that EGOT – winning Best Screenplay in 1968, as well as Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score for the stage version in 2001 (He also won Grammys for Producers related work, but already had one on the shelf for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 as Best Comedy Album).

Just to wrap this up, he also won three Emmys for Guest Comedy Actor on Mad About You, and one for writing on a Sid Caesar special in the ’60s

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The Set of 400: #58 – My Favorite Bicycle Powered Sword Fighting Dummy

Today! Because unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat”! Now we’re getting somewhere!

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)

Directed by Gene Wilder

Starring Gene Wilder (x4), Marty Feldman (x2), Madeline Kahn (x7), Leo McKern, Dom DeLuise (x7), Roy Kinnear (x3), John Le Mesurier, Nicholas Smith, Douglas Wilmer, Thorley Walters, John Hollis, Aubrey Morris (x2), Susan Field, Albert Finney (x4), George Silver

This movie was such a bedrock staple of childhood that I was amazed to learn of its relative obscurity as I got older. I mean, it’s not completely unknown, but it certainly isn’t widely discussed or regarded. Information about its general success upon initial release is a little tough to come by – I’ve seen it ranging anywhere from the 24th to 48th highest grossing movie of 1975, and it may or may not have been the #1 film the weekend before Christmas – but it certainly hasn’t had the staying power of the ’70s Mel Brooks films it is clearly patterned after.

Which is a shame, because while it doesn’t function overly well as a Sherlock Holmes parody – à la the more direct take off of #220 Without a Clue, say – it is a pretty solid Sherlock-esque comedy. Lifting an alias Holmes employed in the first Conan Doyle story after the character’s supposed death (“The Adventure of the Empty House”), Wilder plays Sherlock’s bitter younger brother Sigerson, not – as you may have guessed sight unseen – his famously smarter elder brother Mycroft. Sherlock (played by frequent Sherlock, Douglas Wilmer) directs a vitally important case to his brother through Feldman’s Scotland Yard Sergeant Orville Sacker (named very similar to Doyle’s early draft Dr. Watson – Ormond Sacker). Before long they are facing off with a comically volcanic Moriarty (the terrific Leo McKern), a habitually lying chanteuse (you can never go wrong giving Madeline Kahn musical numbers), and a horse-and-carriage chase/fight through the streets of London unlike any ever made.

Thanks for coming through, heavily watermarked stock photo!

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The Set of 400: #70 – My Favorite Horse Punch

Today! Because I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille –

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x5)

Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder (x3), Harvey Korman (x3), Madeline Kahn (x6), Mel Brooks (x5), Slim Pickens (x2), Alex Karras, David Huddleston (x2), Dom DeLuise (x6), Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman (x2), Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Liam Dunn, Robyn Hilton, Count Basie, Robert Ridgely (x5), Charles McGregor

When people say “They wouldn’t make a movie like this today,” I find that they are normally talking about major studio output. Oh, they’d need a bigger star, they wouldn’t tackle this topic, it doesn’t have blockbuster potential. But in reality, someone somewhere would probably still make whatever movie they’re talking about, if they were able. Quality trumps a lot of financial obstacles, for just the right producer. All that being said, no one anywhere would make Blazing Saddles today.

It’s still funny, ballsy, and wonderful, but I can’t think of a movie aging more uncomfortably than this film. Case in point – you might watch this in your house and think “Oh, some of these jokes are a little rough, but overall it comes out okay.” However, a few years ago I saw this movie in a fairly crowded theater, and no one knew how to react. Was laughing at this wrong? But then why were we all there? It’s not an inherently racist movie, but my God, it goes to some dicey lengths. Richard Pryor’s work on the screenplay is pretty evident, but even at the time the studio was uneasy enough to vote against him also playing Sheriff Bart.

Cleavon Little does make a terrific Bart, though

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The Set of 400: #280 – My Favorite Shadow Horn

Today! Because I will not submit –

Rhinoceros (1974)

Directed by Tom O’Horgan

Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder (x2), Karen Black, Joe Silver, Robert Weil, Marilyn Chris, Percy Rodrigues, Don Calfa (x2), Anne Ramsey

Just barely reaching our minimum requirements for inclusion on this list, Rhinoceros has virtually never been shown in a movie theater. It was produced as part of a brief early ’70s experiment called the American Film Theatre, wherein popular stage plays were adapted to film and had limited engagements at select theaters. It really was an idea ahead of its time, as Fathom Events does similar releases nowadays with operas and British theater offerings, but in ’74 it wasn’t exactly a monster hit concept.

Some of these productions have found minor success on home video, particularly Lee Marvin’s Iceman Cometh, and this ingenious re-teaming of 1968’s The Producers, with Zero recreating his Tony winning turn as Jean/John from the 1961 staging of the Ionesco play, and Wilder in the less flashy Stanley/Berenger role. It’s not a movie or play for everyone, with its wildly absurdist plot and heavy, talky scenes, but the novelty of there existing a Rhinoceros movie has always outweighed the inherent stagey-ness of the film for me.

Plus, Dick Nixon cameos!

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The Set of 400: #359 – My Favorite Blueberry Allergy

Today! Because the suspense is terrible – I hope it’ll last –

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Directed by Mel Stuart

Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Peter Ostrum, Leonard Stone, Nora Denney, Michael Bollner, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen, Julie Dawn Cole, Gunter Meisner

One of those movies you see again as an adult and wonder “Is this too scary for kids?” But you remember watching it as a kid and this never occurring to you. Really, it’s just the boat ride, the rest of the movie is fun musical weirdness. But man, that boat ride!

This movie is rated G??

On Gene Wilder’s death three years ago, I wrote that growing up he might’ve been the top movie star in my whole world, and almost exclusively because of films made previous to that present day. Along with Harrison Ford and…Kermit the Frog maybe? But it seemed like Gene Wilder movies were playing all the time in my house in the ’80s, and many of those will appear in this space in days to come. Continue reading

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