Category Archives: Comedy

100 years of the best in comedy. TV, movies, comedians, stand up, stage performers. We give the background and stories about your favorite comedies of all times.

The Goodbye Girl

 

I love this movie. That’s my main thought as I think about The Goodbye Girl (1977). I can thank my sister, Page, for introducing this and Chapter Two (1979), another Neil Simon written film, to me when I was much younger. And The Wiz (1978) and Chorus Line (1985) for that matter. That’s what you get when you have a sister that is 4 years older than you and influences your early film experiences…sometimes I regret the last two, when I get razzed by my buddies about my specific favorite films, but not with Neil Simon’s stuff. There’s something to be enjoyed there by any gender and tastes…especially his brilliance in writing the perfect argument. From the Odd Couple (1970) on, he has been the master of hilarious arguments. According to Neil Simon, no one expected anything special at the box office from the film. “It had only one real star, Richard Dreyfuss; one rising star, Marsha Mason; and one cute ten-year-old, Quinn Cummings, with a slight love story directed extremely well by Herbert Ross and a rather nice script by me, if I have to say so myself…it probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for Ray Stark’s faith in it.”the_goodbye_girl_lobby_card

The movie is about an unemployed dancer and her 10-year-old daughter who, after being dumped by her live-in boyfriend are reluctantly forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor. My sister was a dancer growing up and now a retired dance teacher, so I can see where her interests drew her to this movie. It was directed by Herbert Ross, who directed 5 of Neil Simon’s movies over the years but also the classics (well, they’ve held up over time, anyway): Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), The Turning Point (1977), Footloose (1984), Steel Magnolias (1989) and one of my other forgotten favorite’s, Undercover Blues (1993). What’s interesting about Goodbye Girl and Turning Point is they were both released in 1977 and unusually enough, he won Best Drama at the Golden Globes for Turning Point and Best Comedy for Goodbye Girl. Nobody has ever done that before and also not since.the-goodbye-girl_marsha-mason

Other than a brilliant script and a wonderful director, the real spark is between Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss. They were both nominated for Oscars from this film, but only Richard one, which is a shame because Marsha was amazing as well. When Richard Dreyfuss was asked in a 2000 interview what made the film so special, he replied, “Goodbye Girl was a wonderful script. Wonderful. And as actors we never got tired of it. Never…It was funny and loving. And the actors and actresses in the show–especially Marsha and Quinn–were perfect. Like God had said these are the actors to work with. I once said that I’d like to play Elliot until I retired and got a Swiss watch because he was great. I wanted to be him, and I wanted to acquire his personality for my own.” Marsha Mason also recalled later, working with Richard Dreyfuss – “Richard was fast and funny. I was thoughtful and more serious. Richard was wild and free. I was a responsible wife and mother and an actress. I wanted so much to be like him. He was so sure of himself, so sure of his place and space, and he moves forward accordingly. He’s bright, bright, bright, incredibly well read, and comfortable with his intelligence.”1977-goodbye-girl-the-02

Another thing of note is that this film has just about the finest ending credit song there is. The film’s theme song “Goodbye Girl”, was sung and written by David Gates, and went to No. #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1977.

Starter For 10, The British Brat Pack

 

Every so often a movie comes around that is so chocked full of amazing actors that you have to wonder how they acquired such an incredible cast. It’s in hind sight of course. The secret is the cast was not well known back then but over the following ten years after the release of the movie, they’ve all racked up impressive lists of movies all on their own. Now, I must admit, that Great Britain has some of the best actors in the world, but it’s rare to find so many of them in one film. The film I’m talking about in this case is Starter For 10 (2006). Throughout this post I want to examine the cast and where they have gone.starter

To start, the film was written by David Nicholls, based on his own novel. He would go on to write some great stuff for the BBC, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008), Great Expectations (2012) and Far From the Maddening Crowd (2015). The film was directed by Tom Vaughan who would also direct What Happens in Vegas (2008), Extraordinary Measures (2010), and Some Kind of Beautiful (2014). Now, not only was it produced by the BBC, but also by Tom Hanks and Playtone! Say what you will about his acting, he’s amazing at that, but has also really shown a talent for picking amazing projects over the years as a producer! His producer credits include Band of Brothers (2001), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), John Adams (2008), Mamma Mia! (2008), The Pacific (2010) and Parkland (2013).starter-10

James McAvoy:  The lead actor in this film, which is a period comedy set in 1985, where the story chronicles the misadventures of Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a student trying to navigate life at Bristol University and his goals to be on the hit quiz show, University Challenge. Because of the time period, setting and cast, it makes it feel like an early 80’s Brat Pack film in the vein of The Breakfast Club (1985), St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Oxford Blues (1984) and Class (1983). It’s interesting to note that it was Andrew MacCarthy’s acting that inspired James McAvoy to be an actor. In an interview he would state, “Yeah, St. Elmo’s Fire is probably the one that I love him in the most. He was really vulnerable, really open, I think. And he had floppy hair, kind of bad hair, and I had really bad hair for quite a long time when I was a kid…”.  starterfor101

Benedict Cumberbatch:  The center connection for all the actors would probably by Cumberbatch as James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch would later co-star together in Atonement (2007). He would also be cast as Sherlock Holmes in a BBC Series created by his co-star Mark Gatiss and he would star in Star Trek Into Darkness with co-star Alice Eve. 4 of the actors would also be hired by Marvel as Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange set to come out this year, McAvoy plays Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies, Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark in the franchise and in Agent Carter on TV and Rebecca Hall appears in Iron Man 3. james-mcavoy-dominic-cooper

Mark Gatiss like I said, created Sherlock Holmes for the BBC (along with Stephen Moffat), but he’s also written for Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Doctor Who, and The League of Gentlemen. I like to think of him as a fine writer, but he has over 80 credits as an actor for the BBC.  Rebecca Hall has gone on to some very fine films like The Prestige (2006), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), The Town (2010), Iron Man 3 (2013), The Gift (2015) and Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (2016). Alice Eve has finally broken out is some very good films over the years that include Men in Black 3 (2012), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Before We Go (2014). Dominic Cooper has recently been in Mamma Mia! (2008), Captain America (2011), and Warcraft (2016). And last but not least would be the understated, James Corden!  Who can forget that he’s taken over the Late Late Show, but he was also fantastic in Begin Again (2013) and Into the Woods (2014).james-corden-james-mcavoy-dominic-cooper

What an incredible cast and a lot of their careers really took off after this film.

Steve Martin, the Writer of Roxanne

 

Over the years Steve Martin has written a lot of material, especially knowing how much time he’s spent as a leading actor, comedian and musician. He technically started writing comedy right out of college by writing for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he won an Emmy.  He would go on to several TV Shows after that and also  on a very successful run as a stand-up comedian, writing his own material. He released several comedy albums and wrote several songs including a hit song, “King Tut” where he won 2 Grammys, then after his movie career would write and perform several “serious” musical albums where he won a few more Grammys.

Now at this point, as everyone knows, he would go on to an enormous movie career and wrote a lot of his movies, especially at the beginning with The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains, 3 Amigos, LA Story, A Simple Twist of Fate, Bowfinger, Shopgirl, and the Pink Panther movies. I thought he deserved an Academy Award in there somewhere as a writer or at the very least as an actor. Martin would later write numerous books and plays and although some of those were quite brilliant, it’s here I’d like to mention my favorite of all he’s written…Roxanne (1987).roxanne-darryl-hannah-steve-martin

Now for those of you who’ve never seen it…stop reading this and go out and buy it on DVD or digital, or whatever you do to get your movies and watch it…you won’t regret it. It’s wonderful. It’s based on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmund Rostand, where large nosed C.D. Bales falls for the beautiful Roxanne while she falls for his personality but another man’s looks. Sounds confusing, but it’s delightful and hilarious. Steve Martin was a driving creative force behind ‘Roxanne’, as both writer and star of the comedy. Martin’s inventive comic mind was turned loose as he undertook the considerable challenge of creating a 1980s comedic hero based on the witty work of playwright Edmond Rostand. Martin remembered: “I was about twelve years old when I first saw the play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and I found it to be very compelling. I kept thinking about it; the story and structure are flawless; the play is moving, beautiful and funny. About four years ago, I started thinking that it also has everything you could want in a movie romance, high comedy and a great story. It seemed a perfect vehicle for me to update. But the play is very, very 11th Century, especially in the joke department. And there are lots of swords, lights, and monasteries, you know, things that don’t really function much in our lives anymore”. So Martin adapted the classic, retaining the triangle dilemma, but moving the story to a modern-day trendy ski resort town, within the backdrop of a volunteer fire department. The town’s handsome, inarticulate swordsman becomes a tongue-tied firefighter in ‘Roxanne’. The source original Cyrano de Bergerac’s brave militant regiment has become his inept volunteer fire brigade. C.D. [Bales] fights fires and not battles and rescues treed cats and not ladies’ honor. Steve Martin noted: “But the story is still there, the classic story of how this beautiful woman comes to understand whom she really loves”.steve-martin-roxanne

When Bales is challenged to tell 20 nose jokes, after he tells 19, he asks “How many’s that?” to which he is told, “Fourteen!” He goes on to tell another six, making 25 in total. My brother and I would count these out as he did them, when we were watching in the theater.  I think he did this because he wrote too many good nose jokes and didn’t know where to cut them off…I think it works, because it’s a great sequence in the film.  Now, I’d also like to mention that this was the first time as an actor that Steve Martin was genuinely starting to be viewed as an actor and not as a stand-up comedian, who acts. In a radio interview, Steve Martin said about his role in Roxanne that it was the first time he felt respected in a film role as opposed to being recognized for his celebrity as a one-time stand-up comedian.

Technology lent an important hand in providing Steve Martin with the imposing, legendary proboscis designed by makeup designer Michael Westmore. A specialty lab made plaster impression of Martin’s own nose was sculpted into a genetically appropriate, larger version. This was then cast into a mold from which they made a supply of foam-rubber noses, at least one a day was used for filming, which were applied with spirit gum, edges feathered with rubber, and blended with Martin’s other facial make-up. Make-up artist Frank Griffin for Steve Martin said: “This was, in some ways, one of the most difficult ‘jobs’ I’ve ever done because we had to match the skin color, with very little surrounding make-up to blend into. If it just ended abruptly, it would stick out like a sore thumb”.darryl-hannah-roxanne-steve-martin

 

 

 

Lloyd Bridges

 

Not only did Lloyd father two very fine actors, he was also one of the most interesting actors in his own right. Lloyd Bridges was a very versatile actor being very successful in just about every genre over the years. He had a successful TV show Sea Hunt in the late 1950’s for 155 episodes. Bridges returned to television a year later in this ambitious 30-minute series, designed to showcase his range and depth as an actor. For The Lloyd Bridges Show, he played journalist Adam Shepherd, who would research a story, and then imagine himself as the protagonist, and the episode would thrust him into a new character in a new situation every week. TV Producer Aaron Spelling came up with the concept, and Lloyd Bridges, later said the show really should have been called “The Aaron Spelling Show”. Bridges said Spelling was a genius. It was a family affair, however, as Jeff Bridges appeared in three episodes, and Beau was in two. Lloyd’s daughter Cindy was also in an episode.airplane-lloyd-bridges

Now, as a child of the 80’s he came to my attention in Airplane, from the Zucker brothers (and Jim Abrahams). This is by far the best of the parody movies, that seemed to flood the movies in the 70’s and 80’s from Mel Brooks and the Zucker brothers. Most of his movies before these featured him in very serious roles, but here he found a new audience as he was extremely funny in these movies. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their “straight-arrow” personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny. Bridges was initially reluctant to take his role in the movie, but his sons, Jeff and Beau, persuaded him to do it. Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey spoofs his role as airport manager Jim Conrad in the TV series San Francisco International Airport (1970).hot-shots-part-deux-lloyd-bridges

Because of the success of this movie, Bridges would be cast in another parody series; Hot Shots! (1991), and Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), written and directed by Jim Abrahams.  He wasn’t the original actor hired for his role however, as he replaced George C. Scott, when he had to decline the project. Hot Shots! parodies the scene in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) in which Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) sits atop on a piano and sings “Makin’ Whoopee”. That film starred Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges as the title characters, Jack and Frank Baker. In the sequel, Hot Shots! Part Deux Jim Abrahams originally wanted Marlon Brando instead of Lloyd Bridges to play The President. Later in 1993, Charlie Sheen, who played the lead in this series, would go on to play Aramis in The Three Musketeers (1993). Interestingly, that role was previously played by Lloyd Bridges in The Fifth Musketeer (1979), which also featured José Ferrer as Athos. Miguel Ferrer, his son, also appears in this Hot Shots! Part Deux.bridges-lloyd-jeff-beau

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

 

If you’ve been to Disneyland lately, specifically California Adventure, you will notice a “new” character walking around the theme park. It’s non-other than Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I say “new” because he was actually the first animated character created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1927, before he created Mickey Mouse, but he never owned the rights to him, until the Disney Company traded the rights for Oswald and all of his original Disney produced animated shorts with NBC/Universal in 2006 for the services of Al Michaels as play-by-play announcer on NBC Sunday Night Football (thank you Al Michaels, that was a Win/Win for us all).oswald

Now, if you’re a Nintendo game fan, then you’ll recognize that they put Oswald to use almost instantly in the video games, Epic Mickey, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.  Here’s some more interesting facts about Oswald:

  • He was voiced by the same person that eventually would go on to become the voice of Goofy – Pinto Colvig, from 1930-1931.
  • Was voiced by actor Mickey Rooney after Pinto left in 1931.
  • Was voiced by Walter Lantz in 1935, who would become famous later for creating another famous animated character, Woody Woodpecker.
  • In the last animated short to feature Oswald, The Egg Cracker Suite (1943) he was voiced by June Foray, who would go on to voice Natasha and Rocky the Squirrel, in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
  • Featured in DC Comics and Dell Comics over the years.
  • Was the first Disney character to sell merchandise.
  • The full version of the animated short Oh, What a Knight is included as an unlockable cartoon in Epic Mickey by collecting various film reels in the game.
  • Oswald won Best New Character in both Readers’ Choice and Editors’ Choice in Nintendo Power’s Best of 2010 awards.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

 

Continuing the trend of quotable movies this week is the ultimate…Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) starring Steve Martin and John Candy and written and directed by John Hughes. This would have to be one of John Hughes best movies, for me. John Hughes, in an interview on the ‘Those Aren’t Pillows’ DVD edition, said he was inspired to write the film’s story after an actual flight from New York to Chicago he was on was diverted to Wichita Kansas, thus taking him 5 days to get home. John Hughes wrote the first-draft of the screenplay in 3 days. His average writing time for a screenplay in those days was about 3-5 days with 20-some rewrites.steve-martin-planes

Upon receiving the script through his agent, Steve Martin was surprised to discover the script’s 145 page length, with a comedy typically aiming for 90 pages. When Martin met with John Hughes, he asked if the director had any intention of cutting the script. According to Martin, Hughes looked at Martin strangely and said “Cutting?”, making Martin realize the director had no intention of cutting the script. Steve Martin was convinced to join the production after favoring two scenes he had read from the script; the seat adjustment-scene in the car, and the F-word tirade at the car rental desk.steve-martin-trains

The film was also, reportedly, a favorite of John Candy’s. Interestingly, the car in the film that Steve and John drive was modeled after the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), which John Hughes wrote 4 years earlier and which also stars John Candy as the security guard at Wallyworld.

Here’s some really great dialogue from the movie:

Neal: Del… Why did you kiss my ear?
Del: Why are you holding my hand?
Neal: [frowns] Where’s your other hand?
Del: Between two pillows…
Neal: Those aren’t pillows!
[they both leap out of bed, screaming and shaking their hands in disgust]those-arent-pillows

or

Neal: You know everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle! Your stories have NONE of that. They’re not even amusing ACCIDENTALLY! “Honey, I’d like you to meet Del Griffith, he’s got some amusing anecodotes for you. Oh and here’s a gun so you can blow your brains out. You’ll thank me for it.” I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. They’d say, “How can you stand it?” I’d say, “‘Cause I’ve been with Del Griffith. I can take ANYTHING.” You know what they’d say? They’d say, “I know what you mean. The shower curtain ring guy. Woah.” It’s like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest, you know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except I wouldn’t pull it out and snap it back – you would. Agh! Agh! Agh! Agh! And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!

orpta-airport

Del: You play with your balls a lot.
Neal: I do NOT play with my balls.
Del: Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!
Neal: Are you trying to start a fight?
Del: No. I’m simply stating a fact. That’s all. You fidget with your nuts a lot.
Neal: You know what’d make me happy?
Del: Another couple of balls, and an extra set of fingers?

or

Del: Simple. There’s no way on earth we’re going to get out of here tonight. We’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak.

Classic…just classic…thanksgiving

Real Men

 

One of the best unknown comedy movies of all time would have to be the hilarious, Real Men (1987) with Jim Belushi and John Ritter. Jim Belushi plays a super-competent secret agent on the trail of Russian thugs. John Ritter plays a milquetoast dad who gets mixed up in the caper. The story follows their adventures over the course of a week, in which Ritter develops some guts and Belushi gets in touch with his sensitive side. It was written and directed by Dennis Feldman, who also wrote Just One of The Guys (1985), The Golden Child (1986), Species (1995) and Virus (1999), but only directed this one movie.real-men

The movie has some of the greatest buddy-buddy scenes I’ve ever seen, especially when Jim Belushi tries to teach John Ritter some spy skills. It’s so quotable…my brother and I always find ourselves quoting lines from this movie almost on a daily basis. (I used to have a pretty good pen, Bob…) Just as an example, here’s some other great exchanges:

REAL MEN, John Ritter, James Belushi, 1987. ©United Artists
REAL MEN, John Ritter, James Belushi, 1987. ©United Artists

NICK: Would you feel better if you had a gun?
BOB: Maybe…
(gives him the revolver and Nick turns around, Bob tries to fire it  at Nick, nothing happens)
NICK: You don’t have to test it Bob, it’s not loaded.

or

Bob: I didn’t know you smoked.
Nick: Just after sex Bob.
Bob: Well how much is that?
Nick: About a pack a day.
Bob: You know that will kill you?
Nick: It won’t kill you Bob, but it will make you very sore.

or

Nick: I’ve got good news and bad news…
Bob: Whats the bad news?
Nick: We’ll never get out of here alive.
Bob:  Whats the good news?
Nick:  We won’t be here that long.

or

Nick:  We’re as safe here as we are anywhere.
Bob: How safe is that?
Nick: Oh, not very.
Bob: They’re gonna shoot at us, aren’t they?
Nick: Probably, Bob. It’s what they brought the guns for.
Bob: What are they trying to do?
Nick: They’re trying to kill me. They know I can’t afford a loss like that.real_men_us_ld

Scavenger Hunt

 

A little known movie that my brother and I really enjoyed growing up was a fun family comedy called, Scavenger Hunt. It came out in 1979 and had an all-star cast of great comedians like Richard Benjamin, Richard Mulligan, James Coco, Dirk Benedict, Clevon Little, Cloris Leachman, Robert Morley, Ruth Gordon, Roddy McDowell, Tony Randall, Scatman Crothers, Stephen Furst, Stuart Pankin, Arnold Schwarzennegger, Richard Masur, Pat McCormick, Vincent Price, Meatloaf, and Willie Aames. The film is about the will of Milton Parker, who made millions inventing and selling board games and creates the ultimate game for his employees and famliy. Upon his death, his relatives and domestic staff gather for the reading of the will and it stipulates that a Scavenger Hunt will be held to determine the beneficiaries of his sizeable estate. The winning team gets all the money, the rest get nothing. It feels like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (is that enough Mads?) World (1963) or Midnight Madness (1980).Scavenger Hunt 2

The film was directed by Michael Schultz, who also directed the Richard Pryor classics, Car Wash, Greased Lightning, Which Way is Up and Bustin’ Loose as well as the features Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Carbon Copy, and the Last Dragon and a TON of Tv Shows. It was produced by Melvin Simon who also produced other hard-to-find movies such as Love At First Bite, When a Stranger Calls, The Stunt Man, My Bodyguard, Zorro the Gay Blade, Chu Chu and the Philly Flash and the 3 Porky’s movies. I’ve looked for most of these movies and I found it to be pretty hard to find any of them.  Especially Scavenger Hunt, which only seems to be available on VHS, but will be released very soon on DVD and Blu-Ray:  https://www.kinolorber.com/Scavenger hunt 3 Scavenger Hunt

 

Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Cannonball Run is Just Plain Fun

 

So I realized something over the weekend. I examined the topics mentioned the most in this blog and number 1 was a surprise…as I seemed to write about Burt Reynolds more than any other topic! So, here’s another blog about him…

If you haven’t seen the film Cannonball Run (1981), now’s the time to do so…it’s just great fun. The original Cannonball Run race was conceived by car magazine writer and auto racer Brock Yates and fellow Car and Driver editor Steve Smith in the early 1970’s. Cannonball Run, was an unofficial, unsanctioned automobile race run five times in the 1970s from New York City and Darien, Connecticut, on the U.S. Atlantic coast, to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. Brock Yates participated as a driver in all 5 races and began working on a screenplay, to be titled Coast to Coast, but was scooped by two unofficial films in 1976, Cannonball and The Gumball Rally, (both are not that good). Eventually, an “official” Cannonball Run movie was made — The Cannonball Run — starring a slew of great actors including Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise with Yates in a cameo appearance.cannonballrun

Director and veteran stuntman / stunt coordinator Hal Needham joined Brock Yates in one of the races, in fact, the ambulance used in the movie is the actual ambulance that Hal Needham and Brock Yates souped up and raced in the real race. It had been modified with a HEMI engine that made it go up to 145 mph and was equipped with four gas filler holes so that the required 90 gallons could be pumped quickly. Needham and Yates didn’t actually win the race (the transmission blew in Palm Springs) so Needham kept it in storage for several years until the time came to make this film.reynolds cannonball run

The other actors on board for this comedy was Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcet, Jackie Chan, Adrienne Barbeau, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bert Convey, Jamie Farr, and Mel Tillis.  Director Hal Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy liked the chemistry of Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis so much that after this film they tried to sell a pilot to ABC featuring their characters. The head of the network loved the idea but the day before the meeting was to be held to discuss it, the head of the network was fired and the project was canceled. I write about that in another blog (click here to read it)…Cannonball Run

In one of the earlier scenes in the movie, Burt Reynolds’s character says “Could get a black Trans Am”, and then answers himself, “Naw, that’s been done.” This is a reference to Smokey and the Bandit (1977) which starred Reynolds, and was directed by Hal Needham, who directed this film. DeLuise co-starred with Reynolds in the 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).  Jackie Chan makes one of his first US film appearances. Inspired by Hal Needham’s notion of including bloopers during the closing credits, Chan begins a tradition of doing the same in most of his movies from this point onward.