To honor the life of comedy legend Gene Wilder – who passed away Monday due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, at the age of 83 – two of the comedian’s most celebrated movies are getting the revival treatment at movie theaters this weekend. AMC Theaters will screen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Blazing Saddles at 55 locations this Saturday and Sunday. Regal Entertainment Group will also host screenings at 100 theaters, including two Saturday showings of the 1971 film, which was based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name.
Many critics note that Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka stands as his most memorable role, while his work with Mel Brooks on Blazing Saddles, was among his funniest. I personally can’t wait for this chance to see both films on the big, something I’ve never had the opportunity to experience.
Blazing Saddles, originally released in 1974, stands as one of my favorite all-time comedy films, with Cleavon Little as Sheriff Bart, Gene Wilder as Jim, Slim Pickens as Taggart, Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamarr, Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp, Brooks himself, who had dual roles as Governor William J. Lepetomane and an Indian Chief, and former football player Alex Karras as Mongo. The comedy went just far enough to make us laugh at ourselves. It was films like that which stood for me with Wilder. He was not only a genius, but so far ahead of his time.
But my favorite Wilder films (which as of now are not being re-released in theaters) were the group of projects Wilder developed with fellow legendary comedian Richard Pryor, including: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989); Stir Crazy (1980) – which Sidney Poitier directed; and Silver Streak (1976). I can still see the pair walking through a train station, bopping, saying “That’s right, we bad!”
Here’s a bit of trivia from Blazing Saddles. The super-talented Cleavon Little – a classically trained actor who attended Juilliard in New York City on scholarship – won the lead role of Sheriff Bart in the film over Pryor, who co-wrote the script for film, eyeing the Sheriff role for himself. Apparently studio suits were nervous about Pryor’s edgy reputation and felt Little would be a “safer” choice. As great as that movie turned out, we can only imagine what Pryor would have done with that role.
Blazing Saddles trailer
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory trailer