Tag Archives: Madeline Kahn

Top 15 Comedy Road Trip Movies

Road Trip movies are some of the most unexpected gems over the past decades, as they usually sneak up on you–but they are definitely at the top of my list as some of the greatest comedies of all time.  Here’s my list for the top 15:

15 – Oh Brother Where Art Thou (2000)

A Coen Brother’s classic, you probably wouldn’t think about this being a road movie…but it is.  It’s also based on, arguably the biggest literary road trip…Homer’s The Odyssey!  Although Homer is given a co-writing credit on the film, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen claim never to have read “The Odyssey” and are familiar with it only through cultural osmosis and film adaptations. The title of this movie didn’t come from the book at all, but rather another movie. “O Brother Where Art Thou?” comes from the title of the movie-within-a-movie in Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941). John Turturro has called this movie “a hillbilly musical comedy adventure.”

14 – Sideways (2004)

You would probably be surprised to find out that Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church had to audition for their roles in the film. You’d be even more surprised to find out that for the scene that Thomas Haden Church read for during the audition, it called for the actor to strip naked, which he did and was later surprised to find out that out of all the actors who auditioned for the same part with the same scene…he was the ONLY one to strip naked. And it got him the role. George Clooney campaigned for the part of Jack, but Alexander Payne thought Clooney was too big a star. However, Clooney got to play the lead in Payne’s next full feature, The Descendants (2011). Paul Giamatti admitted to faking every bit of wine knowledge, and not understanding why anybody would care about it. He also claims he was shocked that he was cast in a lead role and initially thought it was a practical joke. Paul Giamatti admitted in interviews that he doesn’t like wine.

13 – Kingpin (1996)

The Farrelly brothers bowled a strike with this one. It came out the same year as the Big Lebowski and I have to admit liking this one just a touch better. As is the case with most of his films, Bill Murray ad-libbed virtually every line he spoke. He would read over the script, get the “general” idea, and then discard it. The Farrelly brothers, on the DVD commentary, said that they’re very glad he did because it was funnier. Turned out, Bill was also a very good bowler. Bill Murray really bowled three strikes in a row in the scene where his character, Ernie McCracken does the same. The crowd’s reaction is genuine and is actually for Murray. Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, was a terrible bowler and according to the Farrelly brothers maybe got one or two strikes throughout the filming.

12 – Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Steve Carell, at the time he was cast for Little Miss Sunshine (2006), was a relative unknown in Hollywood. According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, the producers of the film worried that he wasn’t a big enough star and didn’t have much acting experience. However, between the time the film was shot in the summer of 2005 and its release in the summer of 2006, Carell became a huge success as the star of the high-grossing film The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) in August 2005 and the leading character of the popular NBC Emmy-winning television series The Office (2005), which premiered in March 2005 and for which Carell won a Golden Globe in 2006 for best lead actor in a comedy television series. In the span of just one year, Carell had become such a star that the producers had gone from protesting his casting to tapping him to do prominent promotion for the film. Bill Murray was the original choice to play Frank. The second choice was Robin Williams.  Thomas Haden Church turned down the role of Richard Hoover, a decision he said he later regretted.

11 – It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

Stanley Kramer, who was known for doing serious films like Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), set out to make this the ultimate comedy film. It became well known that Stanley Kramer was casting nearly every comedy performer he could think of. Some famous stars actually contacted Kramer to volunteer for the project, or to inquire as to why they had not been contacted. When this film was made there were about 100 stunt performers in the US. About 80 of them worked on this film. When the cast first assembled for a meeting with director Stanley Kramer, they were shown the stunts and second unit footage that had already been shot. Buddy Hackett was so impressed that he went to Kramer and asked, “What do you need US for?”

The film was so crammed with action that each leading actor was given two scripts: one for the dialogue and one for physical comedy. For one particular stunt, a billboard that the twin-engine Beechcraft flies through was made of thin balsa wood, except for a thicker frame for support. Stunt pilot Frank Tallman had to fly the aircraft directly through the center of the billboard or the thicker frame would shear off a wing. The billboard was located in Irvine, at what is now the intersection of Interstate 405 and Hwy. 133 (Laguna Canyon), near Lion Country Safari, just east of John Wayne Airport. They had practiced with paper signs but used balsa wood for the actual movie stunt. The wood stopped one engine and the other was sputtering enough that the plane barely made it back to John Wayne Airport.

10 – Midnight Run (1988)

The boxcar scene where Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and John Mardukas (Charles Grodin) discuss whether or not they could ever be friends, was almost entirely improvised on-set. As regards Grodin’s famous, “You ever had sex with an animal, Jack?” line, he was told by Director Martin Brest to come up with something that was guaranteed to make even Robert De Niro laugh. The scene where John Mardukas (Charles Grodin) falls off a cliff was shot in the Salt River Canyon in eastern Arizona. However, the conclusion of the scene, the shots of Mardukas and Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) crashing through the river rapids, was shot in New Zealand, because the water was too cold in Arizona. I have to pause here…too cold. In Arizona.

9 – Paper Moon (1973)

I talk about this movie in a post about Madeline Kahn, you can read it here: KAHN  Ryan O’Neal and daughter Tatum O’Neal are both excellent as well as Madeline Kahn, in this. Tatum O’Neal was 10 years old when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in this movie, making her the youngest person ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category. As of 2018, she still holds this record. She was four years younger than her rival nominee, Linda Blair, in The Exorcist (1973). Some Hollywood insiders suspected that Tatum O’Neal’s performance was “manufactured” by Peter Bogdanovich. It was revealed that the director had gone to great lengths, sometimes requiring as many as fifty takes of some of her scenes, in order to capture the “effortless” natural quality for which Tatum was critically praised. Either way, Bogdanovich maintained later that working with the young actress was “one of the most miserable experiences” of his life.

Prior to finalizing casting, Peter Bogdanovich says he met with Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal at their Malibu home. When Ryan invited Bogdanovich to start an exercise regimen of running on the beach, Tatum countered he wasn’t the type. When she explained to Bogdanovich she said that because he wouldn’t take his shoes or shirt off, he told Ryan, “She’ll do.” Peter Bogdanovich didn’t think the movie would make much money or would be very successful. He certainly didn’t think Tatum O’Neal would win the Oscar.  The film spawned an unsuccessful TV series Paper Moon (1974) starring Jodie Foster.

8 – Cannonball Run (1981)

I talk about Cannonball run at length at a post you can read HERE. In one of the earlier scenes in the movie, J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) said “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) and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), which starred Reynolds, and was directed by Hal Needham, who directed this film. DeLuise co-starred with Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).

7 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

According to director Stephan Elliott, he took the three leads out in drag prior to the beginning of filming. None of them were recognized: Guy Pearce took the opportunity to be outrageously rude, Terence Stamp eventually forgot he was in drag and started hitting on girls, and Hugo Weaving got super-drunk and lay under a table for hours, tapping his finger in time to the music. This last detail was incorporated into the film in the hotel room scene.

6 – Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Harry and Lloyd are named after the (silent) comedy star Harold Lloyd. The feature film debut for Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly. They said years later that the main reason they got the job was that Jim Carrey’s breakthrough film role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) had been directed by someone who had never done a feature film before (Tom Shadyac) and after a positive first meeting with the Farrellys, Carrey decided to give them the job in hopes of replicating that success. According to the Farrelly brothers, Jeff Daniels wasn’t wanted for the film, but Jim Carrey wanted him in it. In order to ensure a no from him, they offered Daniels $50,000 for the role. He accepted without any hesitation nor did he attempt to negotiate, despite insistence from his agent the film would “kill his career.” By 1994, the film was Daniels’ most successful.

5 – It Happened One Night (1934)It Happened One Night (1934) became the first film to perform a “clean sweep” of the top five Academy Award categories, known as the Oscar “grand slam”: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. This feat would later be duplicated by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) in 1976 and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) in 1992. However, It Happened One Night is the only one not nominated in any other category. According to Frank Capra in an interview with Richard Schickel for “The Men Who Made the Movies”, “We made the picture really quickly–four weeks. We stumbled through it, we laughed our way through it. And this goes to show you how much luck and timing and being in the right place at the right time means in show business; how sometimes no preparation at all is better than all the preparation in the world, and sometimes you need great preparation, but you can never out-guess this thing called creativity. It happens in the strangest places and under the strangest of circumstances. I didn’t care much for the picture, ] it turned out to be ‘It Happened One Night’.” Is often credited as the very first screwball comedy.

4 – Tommy Boy (1995)Rob Lowe played the supporting role of Tommy’s stepbrother and is uncredited. The reason for this is because Rob was contractually obligated to Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) at the time, so he took the part simply as a favor for friend Chris Farley. According to David Spade, he and Chris Farley got into a physical altercation on the set. Spade had gone out for a drink with Rob Lowe the night before. Farley had become very jealous and angrily repeated: “How’s Rob Lowe?”. David got so fed up with Chris hounding him on the subject that he threw his Diet Coke on him, to which Chris responded by throwing David into a wall and down the stairs. After the fight, Spade walked off the set and refused to continue filming. The pair would sometimes go for hours without talking to each other, talk to each other through the director, etc.

3 – The Blues Brothers (1980)During filming one of the night scenes, John Belushi disappeared and could not be located. Dan Aykroyd looked around and saw a single house with its lights on. He went to the house and was prepared to identify himself, the movie, and that they were looking for Belushi. Before he could, the homeowner looked at him, smiled and said, “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The homeowner then told them Belushi had entered their house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and then crashed on their couch. Situations like this prompted Aykroyd to affectionately dub Belushi as “America’s Guest”. John Candy orders three orange whips. This line was not scripted; Candy just improvised. While also a cocktail, Orange Whip provided refreshments for the crew, and Costumer Sue Dugan was daughter of the Director of Sales for Orange Whip, Kenny Dugan, who asked the brand be mentioned in the film.

2 – Smokey and the Bandit (1977)A majority of the lines and quotes spoken by Jackie Gleason character, Sheriff Buford T. Justice were improvised. Jackie Gleason reportedly modeled his character, Sheriff Buford T. Justice, after Burt Reynolds’ description of his father, a Florida police officer and Chief of Police. Among the character traits that came from this was the use of “sumbitch”, a colloquial pronunciation of “son of a bitch”. Jackie Gleason said the cafe scene with himself and Burt Reynolds was not in the original story, it was Gleason’s idea. Adding the Junior Justice character was Jackie Gleason’s idea. “I can’t be in the car alone,” Gleason said. “Put someone in there with me to play off of.”

Hal Needham was better known in the film industry as a stuntman and had great difficulty in getting any producers interested in this project. Only when his close friend Burt Reynolds agreed to star in the film did he manage to gain studio attention. Hal Needham asked Jerry Reed to write a theme song for the film. A couple of hours later, Reed presented “East Bound and Down” to Needham. With an acoustic guitar, Reed started to play it and Needham immediately stopped him. Thinking Needham didn’t like it, Reed offered to re-write the song. To which Needham replied: “If you change one note, I’ll kill you!” The song went on to become one of Reed’s biggest hits.

1 – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)John Hughes, in an interview on the “Those Aren’t Pillows” DVD, 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 five days to get home. John Hughes wrote the first draft of the screenplay in three days. His average writing time for a screenplay in those days was about three to five days with twenty-some re-writes. 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. John Candy and Steve Martin’s favorite film that they have made. Although John Hughes was in a bad mood throughout the filming, as his life was falling apart, John Candy and Steve Martin had a great time together during production.

Madeline Kahn, Comedienne

 

Madeline Kahn’s first role was as the dowdy fiancee to Ryan O’Neal’s professor in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and she steals the movie right out from under him and the film’s star Barbra Steisand. In defense of Barbra, she has stated in interviews that she didn’t get the comedy…but it’s obvious that Madeline did, because she nailed it. I talk about that film here. It’s no surprise that she would become a star in her own right and a permanent fixture over the next 20 years with the biggest comedy filmmakers, like Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds and Neil Simon.madeline-kahn-whats-up-doc

Her next follow-up film was again for Peter Bogdanovich and Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon. She would go up for an Oscar nomination, but in that film, 9 year old, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter steals the show and walks away with the Academy Award, to boot. Madeline is good as always. She soon found more comedians to work with when she did Blazing Saddles the very next year with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. They really loved her and would spent the next ten years casting her in Young Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1.paper-moon-madeline-kahn-1973

Burt Reynolds would work with her the year after that for the first time in Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love, which was a musical. It played to Madeline’s strengths as she was an Operatically trained singer. The film failed at the box office, however, I believe because no one wanted to see Burt sing, although he does it well. She would work again with Burt in City Heat along with Clint Eastwood.  Neil Simon would work with her for the first time in 1978 in The Cheap Detective, with Peter Falk. Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. Montenegro character is a spoof of Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. She would do another Neil Simon years later for London Suite in 1996. The third of Neil Simon’s “Suite” movies, the others being Plaza Suite (1971) (remade as Plaza Suite (1987)) and California Suite (1978). It’s the fourth made of Simon’s “Suite” movies counting the TV remake.madeline-kahn-in-cheaper-detective

Now all of these films of hers are worth watching, but my favorite of hers is the movie Clue, which came out in 1985. If you haven’t seen this movie based on the board game, it’s fantastic. The cast is amazing and was given some leeway in improvising some of their dialogue. An example of this is Madeline Kahn’s improvising of “flames, flames…” which is just brilliant. It’s been said that the cast of great comedians loved working together on that film and it’s no wonder that Madeline is a favorite of everyones. Many directors, writers, actors and filmmakers would recast her time and time again. She was that good.  She’s definitely missed.madeline-kahn-in-clue

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.”

Kenneth Mars, Brilliant Comedic Mind

 

Most people would probably recognize Kenneth Mars as the voice of King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My brother and I loved him in What’s Up, Doc? as the Croatian Musicologist Hugh Simon. He was a brilliant comedic mind and had a flair for strange foreign accents. He was very versatile and had great parts in the movies, on TV, on Broadway and as a voice-over actor. He racked up over 200 credits before cancer took him in 2011.

To list his “must-see” films, I would definitely go to his big 3; The Producers (1967), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Young Frankenstein (1974) . In the Producers, the role of Franz Liebkind was originally given to Dustin Hoffman, but he eventually declined when he got the part of Benjamin in The Graduate (1967). Brooks only allowed Hoffman the chance to go off to the audition for the film because his wife (Anne Bancroft) was in it, and Brooks was familiar enough with the role of Benjamin to know Hoffman was utterly wrong for it (as written) and would never be cast. Great bit of luck for Kenneth Mars who inherited the role and even better luck for us, who got to watch him be utterly brilliant in it.  He was so good, Gene Wilder wondered if Kenneth Mars really was crazy throughout filming and not just acting because of some of his antics.Kenneth Mars the producers

I think it takes a special director comfortable with letting the performers loose during comedy that can bring out the best in some people.  Mel Brooks definitely had that ability. Another is Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Kenneth in What’s Up, Doc?. He was given the freedom on that film to completely make up a fake foreign language.  Much of Hugh Simon’s “foreign” language was Mars’ made-up interpretation of Serbo-Croatian, director Peter Bogdanovich’s native language. He was also a brilliant improviser. According to Peter Bogdanovich on the dvd commentary, the line ” I would like to say I love your hair”, spoken by Mars was improvised.Kenneth mars and Whats up doc

He would work again with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein as the German Inspector Kemp. The movie has so many good actors (like Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle) that nearly steal the scenes they are in, and Kenneth was no different. He’s fantastic. Interesting to note that he had strange accents in all of these movies, and after this third one, was known as the actor who could do foreign dialects, even though he made up most of the foreign languages and accents he did.kenneth mars and young frankenstein

Kenneth would go on to do over 30 years on TV and doing voices for a ton of cartoons.  In my opinion he was under-utilized over the years, even with over 200 credits. He was that good.