A great actor who was funny: ‘Remembering Gene Wilder’ offers a fantastic look at the life of a legend

Gene Wilder himself provides much of the narration for the documentary Remembering Gene Wilder, as director Ron Frank uses the late actor’s voice (taken from the actor’s audio recordings for his memoirs) to wonderful effect.

The doc covers much of Wilder’s career, from his early roles in The Producers, through his other collaborations with Mel Brooks (including Young Frankenstein) and Richard Pryor. Sometimes it’s easy to take what a comic actor does in a movie for granted. Director Ron Frank successfully conveys, with the help of Wilder himself, just how nuanced and precise of a comic actor Wilder really was.

His power came from his acting gifts, fine-tuned with an early stage career: He was a great actor who was funny. His work in The Producers, his first truly comedic feature film role, showed an actor who was hilarious while being convincingly terrified of Zero Mostel. As the doc shows, Wilder really was a little scared of Mostel. There was a lot of truth in that scene where he squealed in fear of Mostel possibly jumping on him.

Mel Brooks sits down for an interview (the man just keeps on going!) and reveals how he fought hard with Wilder to remove “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein, because it was too off track for a film that was a consistent homage to the original Frankenstein. As Brooks acknowledges in his interview, he had to apologize to Wilder, because it wound up being the best part of his film.

Another great story: Wilder wound up playing the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles after the original actor puked on the crew. Wilder accepted the role, and within a day, he was hanging upside down in that jail cell, eyeballing the new sheriff in town.

Of course, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory gets its due, as well it should. Gilda Radner gets a touching place in the film—a brief but wonderful stretch in Wilder’s life. The last portion of the film is delicately dedicated to his final marriage and his battle with Alzheimer’s.

I count Wilder with the likes of Steve Martin and Bill Murray as an all-time-great, multitalented comedic actor. The man could act, paint, write and, most prominently, deliver a comedic performance like no other.

All hail the great Gene Wilder—and, if you are a fan, you will love this look at his great life.

Remembering Gene Wilder is now streaming on Netflix.

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