Thursday, September 08, 2016

Gene Wilder (1933–2016)

While I'm not usually one to join the mourning sickness that occurs upon a beloved celebrity's death, Gene Wilder was always of particular interest to me, and he had an odd career, to say the least.

By that I mean, here was a goofy-looking dude with a ginger 'fro who was totally believable as a romantic lead in a romcom1, as an action star2, as a cowboy3, as the writer and star of a now-classic comedy4, and of course, as a deeply odd candy factory owner who wants to will it to a minor, because someone has to take care of the orange people.

As referenced:
1The Woman in Red (1984)
2Silver Streak (1976)
3Blazing Saddles (1974)
4Young Frankenstein (1974)
5Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Since you know about all of those, I'd like to point out one you may have missed - the OTHER time he played a cowboy, but a cowboy who was also a Rabbi. My grandma was the one who got me interested in The Frisco Kid (1979). She said, "Did you know that Harrison Ford is in a western?" One of the cool things about my grandma was she was pretty plugged in to what was going on movie-wise, especially sci-fi. She was the one who introduced me to Star Trek. And, like everyone at the time, was pretty taken with Harrison Ford. So we sat down to watch.

Wilder is a Rabbi sent from the old world to establish a new synagogue in San Francisco, which he thinks is a suburb of New York. Ford is a bank robber who ends up guiding Wilder through the old west to escape the laws. Hilarity ensues, as we say. (Aside about Ford: up until Star Wars, the majority of his roles were cowboys or guys who at least wore cowboy hats. I always wondered why his character in American Graffiti wore a cowboy hat, but I bet Lucas was trying to keep him recognizable to anyone who'd seen him prior.)

It's a good movie, not a great movie. But if you're looking for a Wilder fix, this is likely the one you haven't seen that you'll enjoy.

And, if you dig comedy westerns, there was a spate of them around the time the Frisco Kid came out. If you want to make it a movie festival, you could throw in The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976) and The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (1976).

Good times.

And goodbye Gene. Godspeed.

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