The eighties were so strange that watching See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Stir Crazy I thought Gene Wilder was the wild one and Richard Pryor the straight man. Wilder’s frizz perm fascinated me too – here was a man with marbles in his head in place of a cerebral lobe. Rewatching his bit in Bonnie and Clyde (for ten minutes the movie stops cold so the audience can gawk at the weird, almost sexual jolt he gives the other actors) and Young Frankenstein, another comedy I grew up with, I lament how movies and Wilder’s own body (he was a cancer survivor) could not contain his energies.
A few of the best obits:
Ronald Bergan on my second favorite Gene Wilder moment:
After his screen debut in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which he played the jumpy undertaker whisked off on a peril- ous joyride by the eponymous couple, Wilder’s career really took off with The Producers, in which he made hysteria hysterical: “My blanket! My blue blanket! Gimme my blue blanket! Oohhhh! Aaaahh! Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmm! Aahhhh. I’m sorry. I don’t like people touching my blue blanket. It’s not important, it’s a minor compulsion, I can deal with it if I want to,” Bloom shrieks, clinging to his handkerchief-sized piece of security blanket.
s the news of his death spreads, everyone will think of his or her favorite insane-slow-burn Gene Wilder moment. The late Pauline Kael mentioned a quintessential one, the bit in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) in which Wilder (as a haughty aristocrat) is informed that the noble bird on his shoulder is, in fact, dead. Wilder fixes the upstart with his laser-blue stare and says, with that eerie calm-that’s-being-slowly-strangled-to-death-by-escalating rage, “Repeat that.”
My own favorite is in Young Frankenstein (1974), which Wilder conceived and co-wrote with Mel Brooks. Here, with elaborate patience, Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein poses the question to Marty Feldman’s Igor: What brain did the hunchback steal for the inexplicably brutal creature? “You won’t be mad?” asks Igor. “I. Will. Not. Be Mad.” By the time we hear, “Abby someone,” and the gentle but quivering, “Abby — who?” we are ready — eager — for the murderous explosion to come. No one built as exquisitely as Wilder from the genial, the gentle, the hopeful, to violent, no-holds-barred hysteria. At those moments, Wilder was unique — a genius.
My favorite Wilder moment? Between him and the indifferent Armenian sheep in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.
We should note that Gene Wilder will go on, existing in meme form in perpetuity.