Gene Wilder, an absolutely genius-level comic actor who fully understood the angst and anxiety of 20th Century existence and the bullshit within and who ruled and revelled for a glorious 13-year period (’67 to ’80), has left the planet. I’m very sorry but the poor guy was grappling with Al Z. Heimer. Hugs and condolences for his friends, loved ones, family, fans. Wilder was 83.
Brilliant and crackling as he was in several films during his hot streak, Wilder never quite matched his exquisitely delivered performance as Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein in Mel Brooks‘ Young Frankenstein (’74) — a film that I’ve watched at least 20 times and could easily watch another 20 for Wilder’s performance alone. Incandescent, precise, fall on the floor.
For me his career boiled down to seven key performances — the kidnapped undertaker in Arthur Penn‘s Bonnie and Clyde (67), Leo Bloom in Brooks’ The Producers (’68 — “Max, he’s wearing a dress”), the doctor who has an affair with a sheep in Woody Allen‘s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (’72), Fredrick Frankenstein, The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles (’74), George Caldwell in Arthur Hiller‘s Silver Streak and Skip Donahue in Sidney Poitier‘s Stir Crazy (’80).
I’m respectful of Wilder’s other admired performances in Start the Revolution Without Me, Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Rhinoceros, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, The Frisco Kid, Sunday Lovers and The Lady in Red, but the classics are the classics.