Friday, September 26, 2014

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY 1971

Do kids really like watching other kids in movies and on TV? I certainly know I didn’t. At least not what passed for kids in the TV shows and movies of my youth. My inability to relate to that hyperactive genus of freckle-faced precocity known as the child actor contributed to my childhood aversion to Disney, so-called “family entertainment,” and basically any film or TV program which trained its spotlight on adorable, towheaded moppets. Hence, I was nearly in my 30s before I got around to seeing Mary Poppins, Pollyanna, The Sound of Music, or The Parent Trap; all movies I've come to adore as an adult (ultimately the demographic most invested in the sentimentalized idealization of that trauma-filled age-span known as childhood), but which held little interest for me as a kid because I simply saw no connection between myself and those miniature adult-impersonators I saw onscreen. 

Take, for example, the TV sitcoms of my youth: Beaver Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver was a pathological liar whose wobbly moral compass and iffy common-sense could be effectively shut down by the feeble taunt of “chicken!”; those ginger twins, Buffy & Jody of Family Affair were like these too-good-to-be-true, animatronic wind-up dolls; Dennis the Menace was a well-intentioned but nevertheless misogynist, passive-aggressive sociopath; and don’t even get me started on that mayonnaise-on-white-bread-with-Velveeta-slices Brady Bunch clan.
Either absurdly goody-goody or possessed of an annoyingly thickheaded inability to ascribe consequence to action, these characters may have warmed the hearts of nostalgia-prone adults clinging to a revisionist revery of childhood as a time of mischievous scamps getting into adorable “scrapes,” and wide-eyed cherubs spreading sunshine and rainbows wherever they went; but I might as well have been watching The Twilight Zone for all their resemblance to the pint-sized Gila monsters I went to school with in real life.

Of course, there were a few rare exceptions. Given my own dark disposition, I had no problem with the refreshingly odd Pugsly and Wednesday Addams on The Addams Family; I took considerable pleasure in Jane Withers as the hilariously bratty antithesis to the sugary Shirley Temple in 1934's Bright Eyes (“My psychoanalyst told me there ain’t any Santa Clause or fairies or giants or anything like that!”); and was perhaps most impressed by Patty McCormack’s Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, who was essentially James Cagney in a pinafore. And of course, one of my all-time favorites was the 1968 musical, Oliver! with its ragtag cast of underage pickpockets, thieves, and swindlers.
If anything is to be gleaned from this, it’s that, as a child, I longed for an alternative to these antiseptic images of childhood just as my parents yearned for something beyond the The Donna Reed Show/Father Knows Best model of family. Sure, kids can be sugar and spice and all that, but kids are also self-centered, very sharp, and crueler than most adults would like to admit. And childhood, while certainly a (perceived) joyous and carefree time when viewed from the perspective of adult responsibility and stress, is nonetheless a very scary period of life, fraught with anxieties and insecurities.

Redeemed by resilience, curiosity, and a limitless capacity for hope and dreaming, I've long held that children, in essence, aren't really that different from adults. Author Roald Dahl understood this, and that is why the ofttimes frightening, marvelously witty and acerbic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (adapted from his 1964 book, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) stands out as one of the few children’s movies from my childhood I recall with a great deal of fondness. Here was a terribly sweet children's movie that didn't need the sugar-coating.
Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka
Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket
Jack Albertson as Grandpa Joe
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a straightforward fairy tale - complete with moral and happy ending - that takes place in a world where the fantastic and magical exists side by side with the prosaic and practical; in other words, the world as kids see it until we adults start to stick our noses in.
One day Willy Wonka, an eccentric, reclusive, candy manufacturer around whose identity swarms mysterious Gatsby-like legends, decides to open the doors to his wondrous candy factory to five lucky winners of  Golden Tickets he’s hidden in Wonka Bars shipped all over the globe. The winners and one guest receive a tour of his factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate. The winners:
Germany
The gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) and his mother (Ursula Reit, who always reminds me of an off-diet Elke Sommer)
England
Spoiled Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) and her salted peanut magnate father, Henry (the wonderful Roy Kinnear)
America
Ill-mannered Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) and her pushy, used-car salesman dad, Sam (Leonard Stone)
America
Rambunctious TV-addict, Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) and his schoolteacher mom (Nora Denney)
...and most deserving, poor-as-a-church-mouse Charlie Bucket, who takes his beloved Grandpa Joe with him (and not his hardworking mom, but more about that later)
The four initial winners of the Golden Ticket are all comfortably well-off children (save for Veruca, who's loaded) whose want for the prize stems largely from a kind of entitled greed indigenous to comfortably well-off children. Only poverty-stricken Charlie (who has to attend school AND help his mother support four bed-ridden grandparents) harbors the dream of winning the ticket to improve his lot and that of his family. Thus, with sweet-natured Charlie the parable's obvious hero, and rival candy manufacturer Arthur Slugworth (Gunter Meisner) the villain, the four “naughty, nasty little children” must serve as emissaries of the film’s moral (our behavior and our hearts are the architects of our fate) and as foils for their unpredictable and mischievous host, Mr. Willy Wonka.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I love the setup and structure of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The first half of the film being rooted in reality...well, a charming kind of storybook reality. After all, we’re asked to accept that Charlie’s four grandparents have not set foot out of the bed they all share for twenty years. The second half of the film is a pure flight-of-fantasy wherein a common childhood dream comes to life: a visit to a magical candyland that’s part Disneyland, part amusement park funhouse, and part house of horrors (adults tend to forget how much kids enjoy being frightened and gleefully grossed-out).
From the start, the film does a great job of piquing interest in Wonka by having him discussed, Citizen Kane fashion, at length before he even makes an appearance. It also gives us a likeable and sympathetic hero to root for in Charlie, who’s saved from being a totally pathetic character by being blessed with a loving, if oddball, family. Conflict rears its head in the form of the other four Golden Ticket winners, who may be amplified versions of archetypal bratty kids, but, with the possible exception of Veruca, are not malicious or mean-spirited, just self-centered. (Even the awful Mike Teevee precurses questions to his host with a polite, “Mr. Wonka….” )
Touring the candy factory in the S.S. Wonkatania
The two halves of the film complement one another nicely.  The first half is appropriately dingy and sentimental (bordering on cloying), setting the stage for the second half , which, in mirroring the unpredictable spirit of Wonka himself, explodes into a colorful, anarchic phantasmagoria that plays gleeful havoc with the genre expectations of the children’s movie.

In fact, one of my favorite things about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is that it is such a sublimely nasty twist on the traditional tolerant celebration of childhood precocity that fuels so many films intended for children. Wonka’s factory‒ a place where anything is possible…an environment wherein the laws of reason, logic, or physics don’t apply‒ recall those marvelously anarchic Warner Bros. cartoons. The at-odds, adversarial byplay between Wonka and the kids evoking for me the comic clashes between Bugs Bunny (unflappable, always one step ahead, just a little screwy) and Daffy Duck (unchecked id combined with brazen self-interest).
While panic reigns, Wonka watches Augustus Gloop's probable drowning in the chocolate river with detached, intellectual curiosity. Mrs. Gloop's outburst ("You terrible man!") never fails to crack me up.

PERFORMANCES
People are fond of pointing out that Roald Dahl was not very fond of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, no doubt due to the extensive rewrites his adapted screenplay was subjected to by an unbilled David Seltzer (The Omen), and the shift of the story’s focus from Charlie to Wonka. This point would be persuasive save for two things: 1) Dahl’s heirs stated he would have liked the 2005 Tim Burton version (a film I found to be irredeemably wretched, so, so much for tatse), and, 2) With rare exceptions, an author’s ability to write a book doesn't mean a hill of jellybeans when it comes to understanding what makes a film work (see: Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov, and Stephen King). As far as I'm concerned, to place the focus on anyone but Wonka would have been sheer folly, especially if you're lucky enough to land an actor as inspired as Gene Wilder to take on the role. 
Willy Wonka, as envisioned by Wilder, lives up to the alliterative suggestion of his name by being quite wonky indeed. Dressed in anachronistic high style, he sports a madman’s mane of wiry locks yet keeps his wits about him at all times; is enthusiastic and excitable as a child, yet remains unflappable and unflustered at even the most life-threatening (to the children, anyway) occurrences; and has bright, inquisitive eyes that can be warm and paternal one moment, wild and certifiably insane the next. A genial host, he’s witty, sharp, sarcastic, and not particularly child-friendly, and seems singularly disinterested in being the surrogate parent and disciplinarian for the transgressions of his misbehaving guests.
"What is this, a freak out?"
The brilliance of Wilder's portrayal is that we expect the mystery surrounding Wonka to be cleared up when we meet him, but instead, it only increases. I don't care how many times or in how many ways Warner Bros. tries to wring income out of Dahl's book; Gene Wilder is the one and only Willy Wonka

Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (both 1974) would expose Wilder's comic genius to a broader audience, but even at this relatively early juncture in his career, his performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. Creating an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind character (his Wonka is loveable and scary, frequently simultaneously) Wilder is the main reason the film works at all, and the primary factor in why the film has endured for so long after its initial flop release. Thanks to Gene Wilder's ingenious brand of insanity, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has become a genuine children's classic. (Although Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe, the film received but one Oscar nomination: for Best Original Score.)
Any fan of The Bad Seed should find Julie Dawn Cole's vitriolic Veruca Salt a sheer delight

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
By the way, did I mention Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a musical? No, I didn't, but that's because I was saving it for this section. At a time when movie musicals were becoming as bloated as Violet Beauregarde at maximum blueberry transformation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory successfully bucked the trend toward entertainment elephantitis (as much as a film deemed to be a boxoffice flop upon release can be called a success) and came up with an appealing, bite-size musical that for once didn't overwhelm its story and characters.
The songwriting team of Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse (Goodbye Mr. Chips, Scrooge!) reined in their usual tendency toward over-sophisticated melodies (although Cheer Up, Charlie, a real snoozer and always my cue to visit the snack bar, somehow made the cut) and came up with a score of tuneful, engaging songs possessing the simple, sing-song lilt of nursery rhymes and grade school. Best of all, each is staged in a clever, intimate scale that avoids bringing the proceedings to a halt and instead draws you deeper into the characters and storyline.
Director Mel Stuart wisely rejected the suggestion to expand the rousing "I've Got a Golden Ticket" into a large-scale production number that spilled out into the streets, a la 1968s Oliver!
Those around in 1971 can attest to the unavoidability of Sammy Davis Jr.'s grooved-up version of "The Candy Man" played 'round the clock on the radio at the time. And though it reached No.1 on the charts and became one of Davis' signature songs, its popularity and omnipresence failed to garner the song an Oscar nomination (for that matter, neither did the splendid "Pure Imagination") or boost public interest in the poorly-promoted film. (Willy Wonka's visually unappealing initial-release poster and non-existent marketing campaign clearly reveal that Paramount didn't have a clue how to sell it).
"The Candy Man" is sung by Aubrey Woods (here shown giving an inadvertent jaw realignment to a little girl who didn't know her cues) as Bill the candy shop owner. Both Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis, Jr. angled for the part. Once again, can we give it up for the wise decisions of Mel Stuart?

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971 when it was released, largely at my older sister’s prodding. Then being unfamiliar with either Roald Dahl or the book (which I’ve since read it, and, as much as I love it, I find the film a vast improvement), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sounded far too much like Toby Tyler: or Ten Weeks with a Circus, a cornball 1960 film serialized on The Wonderful World of Disney that exemplified a great many of the things I hated about children’s movies. I was 13-years-old at the time, realism was all the rage, and the movies I most wanted to see in 1971 were Klute, Carnal Knowledge, Straw Dogs, The Devils, and Play Misty for Me; certainly not a treacly kiddie musical set in a candy factory.
Those catchy Oompa-Loompa songs are near impossible to dislodge from one's memory
Lucky for me my parents put their foot down; it was either Willy Wonka or stay home. As this post attests, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of the happiest surprises of my youth. It's a children's movie made by people who, like me, had perhaps grown tired of the conventions of the genre. It's funny in a lot of sharp, adult-centric ways (the Wonka-mania vignettes are real gems), its dialog is witty, and its characterizations frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. And while there's a great deal of sweetness and sentimentality to the story, it never feels forced or phony. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory never ever made me cry when I was a kid, but now as an adult, each and every time I watch it, I get an attack of waterworks when Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe are flying over the city in the Wonkavator.
Nowadays, when children indulging in bad behavior are rewarded with reality-TV contracts or celebrated by YouTube hits; I guess a movie like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory really pushes a few nostalgia buttons of my own. In today's culture-of-cruelty climate, where reality shows teach us that the-end-justifies-the-means if that end is fame or fortune; I can grow pretty sentimental about a story where a little boy is actually rewarded for doing the right thing.

Wonka: But Charlie...don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie: What happened?


BONUS MATERIAL
Fans of Joan Crawford's 1967 circus epic, Berserk will recognize Bruno the clown (George Claydon) as one of Wonka's Oompa Loompas.

Fans of Lost Horizon (1973) will recognize the dubbed singing of voice of Liv Ullman in that film (Diana Lee) to belong to Charlie's mother (Diana Sowle) as well.

In 2013 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was turned into a West End musical. (Although the title suggests little or no connection with the film, the show's score of all original music does include the Newley/Bricusse composition. "Pure Imagination.") Available on iTunes.

There are tons of sites devoted to trivia, production info, and hidden-joke theories surrounding Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. My favorite is the groundswell movement devoted to proving that Charlie's beloved Grandpa Joe is basically a selfish, lazy slob without a conscience. Precipitated by his first character-revealing response when Charlie is asked by his mother where he got the loaf of bread for dinner (suitable for a banquet, I'm sad to say): "What difference does it make where he got it? The point is, he got it!" and further exacerbated by his "magical" ability to get out of bed when there's something fun to do (aka, not work), a persuasive case is made against lovable Grandpa Joe throughout the web. Check out this link: Why Grandpa Joe is a Jerk , then, if convinced; join the "I Hate Grandpa Joe" Facebook page.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

44 comments:

  1. A typically wonderful blend of cinematic assessment and your own experience and reflections regarding the subject. It's been too long since I last saw this. (I think I've ever only watched it on TV long ago with cropping, commercials, etc... so I suspect I'll be in for a treat when I see it widescreen and uninterrupted!)

    I especially enjoyed your remarks about children in general and the (potentially unpopular) stance that they can be self-centered and cruel. In fact, not long ago I listened to a radio program in which a guest was emphasizing that there is too much emphasis these days on catering to children's every whim and "building self esteem." She claimed that we are all born selfish and self-centered and that it is up to a parent to convey that other people's feelings and needs count, too, which results in sharing, compassion and amiability when it comes to social interaction. What a concept!! I fear sometimes that the upcoming generation is going to lean towards entitlement, self-involvement and self-imposed isolation as a result of the knee-jerk reaction to the way some parents feel they were neglected when they were themselves children. Anyway... I guess I've gone on too much about that.

    Mrs. Gloop, in these photos anyway, gives me more of a Shelley Winters vibe! I'll have to keep an eye peeled for shades of Elke the next time I view this. Thanks, as always, for your captivating reviews!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Poseidon
      I appreciate very much that you “get” the autobiographical/sociological slant of my posts. I think my desire to escape into the world of film as a youngster has meant that movies have always been a kind of bifurcated experience for me. Few movies I love fail to impact my emotional and intellectual worlds.

      I’m so in agreement with you on this self-esteem thing with kids. I work with a few and believe me, most could do with a good deal less self-esteem and more consideration of others (but in truth, the parents aren’t much better). While I was watching “Willy Wonka” I was struck by how, at the time it came out, I had NEVER heard a child speak to a parent the way these kids do (which was why it was funny/shocking)...the way I hear kids speak to their parents today would likely make even Veruca turn blue, which is why this film, and its simple moral that character counts and how we treat one another counts, makes me feel very nostalgic.
      Should you ever get a chance to revisit “Willy Wonka” on DVD and without commercials, you might not like the film, but I’m positive you’ll love the experience. It’s such a classic in my eyes. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. Another excellent review from you Ken and amen to being a child with an aversion to juvenile screen counterparts - I felt exactly the same and would always look to the older members of the cast instead (I was the same with the musical Oliver! preferring to enjoy and relate to Ron Moody's Fagin rather than to any of the children) We read Dahl's book in infant school and, as a treat after it, our teacher brought the film in. I remember we kind of felt confused by the changes made in the film but it didn't mar our enjoyment one bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Mark, so nice to hear from you! I'm always so glad that my first exposure to "Willy Wonka" was so clueless (I didn't even know it was a musical, all i knew is that I didn't want to see it).
      It's a matter of taste, but I prefer virtually every character and plot change on the movie. The book stands separate and apart as a marvelous fantasy, but "Willy Wonka" is forever locked into these vaguely 70s images.
      And yes, the world of adults seemed infinitely more interesting than that of children. To simplify: the world of kids looked like Charlie Sheen to me (largely ignorant but possessed of a clueless satisfaction in being boorish, self indulgent, loud, ignorant); the world of adults looked like Meryl Streep.

      Delete
  3. Nora Denney? Where'd that come from? Did she change her name? She was billed as Dodo Denney for most of her career. Her real name was Dolores I think. She was on a lot of TV shows but better known for dozens of TV commercials. I always thought that her name was hysterical because when I was a kid in our family calling someone a dodo was the height of insults. Yeah, I was TERRBILY naive and sheltered back then. I never heard a four letter curse word uttered by a real person (movies don't count) until I was in college. Seriously.

    While I am an ardent fan of this movie I will always prefer the book. There's something a bit doofish about Peter Ostrum's Charlie that irritated me as a kid when I first saw this. I was able to envision Charlie Bucket in the book as a cool poor kid with a tough side to him. Was disappointed that Charlie was a wimpy do-gooder in the movie. And while Gene Wilder does a subtle job of making Wonka mysterious and even sinister I prefer the misanthropic midget Willy Wonka in the book. There's a reason he surrounds himself with dwarfish servants like the Oompa Loompas in his hermitage of a factory
    as a sort of king in exile.

    Really enjoyed reading this post. I can agree with some of this but I'm afraid I wasn't as advanced as you as a kid. I had no prejudices against TV incarnations of children. I guess I knew they were ridiculously fake and accepted it all as entertainment. Sometimes I secretly I envied some of the fantasy worlds those children lived in. My childhood was a horror show frankly. When you're terrorized most of your teen years and you end up with indifferent parents who look the other way wishing that attentive and loving parents like Mike and Carol Brady were your parents is not such a foolish dream.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! I love that not only do you KNOW who Dodo Denny is, but can connect her to a childhood memory!
      In researching this post I discovered that after being Dodo Denny for more than a decade, Delores (you are right) changed her name to Nora in the late 1970s.
      She was in so many commercials and TVshows when I grew up. Her character in "Willy Wonka" is essentially the same permissive mom she played to an over-entitled brat in an episode of "That Girl" (After telling her son he's going to be punished - Son: "Don't I even get to watch television?" Dodo: "OK...but only in black and white!").

      I like that you were never allowed to swear growing up. Me too. I wasn't even allowed to imitate Milton Berle's running gag reaction exclamation phrase, "What the hey?" because my mom said it was a flimsy cover-up for "H-E-double hockey sticks."

      Being a doofus myself, and quite the goody-goody, I THOROUGHLY identified with the movie's Charlie. Which is one reason the film must have been so satisfying for me. The teachers at school always knew the bratty kids' names and they got a lot of attention (albeit primarily bad)...I obviously resented it and loved seeing a movie where bad behavior wasn't rewarded.

      By the way, I love little bit you share about your childhood at the end of your post. The vast popularity of the TV shows I mentioned speaks to that very phenomenon you recount; many kids watched these shows longing to be a part of a family as loving as those in TV sitcoms.
      As a slight point of departure, but still on point...the older sister who dragged me to see "Willy Wonka" once remarked after seeing "The Godfather" on TV, that she envied that family's closeness.
      Which should give you an idea of MY childhood!

      Delete
  4. Hi Ken! I’ve been waiting for this one!
    I *LOVE* this film! It’s one of my childhood-into-adulthood iconic movies, and I loved your review!
    The score is very underrated (“Pure Imagination” is a goosebump-maker) , and I found your comment that it “didn’t overwhelm” very interesting – were they actually considering making the “Golden Ticket” song spill out into the street? Yikes! I must say, I do love “Cheer Up Charlie” – it’s so lovely with its arrangements and sweet melody, and I love the way it shows Charlie’s unhappy face shown over his lonely walk home through the dark streets. The cast was top-notch, and I was happy to see that you felt that Mr. Wilder deserved an Oscar nomination. And yes – I get waterworks too at that moment at the end in the elevator. Thanks for another great read!
    PS – I’m *really hoping* you can get to CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG someday! That’s such a HUGE favorite of mine, and another one that became a classic as the years went on.
    Peace! Mike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pleases me no end that you enjoyed this post, Michael! Thank you!
      Not long after seeing the film, I purchased the soundtrack and played it incessantly. The simple score is so far superior to what Newley and Bricusse came up with for those larger budget musicals like Goodbye Mr Chips. It's right upthere with "The Wizard of Oz" as being one of my favorite children's film scores.
      "Pure Imagination" is indeed a goosebump maker, and in all fairness to the song "Cheer Up Charlie", I wonder if I would have felt differently about it had they found a better-matched voice for the dubbing. That awful, clear-as-a-bell voice they got for Charlie's mother is better suited to Anna in "The King and I".
      Also,it didn't help that the melody bore a strong resemblance to the one that accompanied "The Late Late Show" on TV when I was growing up.
      And you're a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fan? BOY, did I see that film a lot growing up. It played for weeks at a local theater and i went each time, sitting through that LONG movie twice.
      Like "Willy Wonka" it was a bomb none of my friends saw or cared about at the time, now both are regarded as classics! Go figure!
      Thanks, Mike!

      Delete
    2. Thank you Ken, I always love your replies!

      Yes, WW has a gorgeous score. I agree that the voice double for "Cheer Up" could have been better matched. It's funny you said Anna in the KING AND I - the lady who sang for Charlie's mom was the same lady who dubbed Samantha Eggar in DR DOLITTLE....and Ms. Eggar in fact played Anna in the short lived 1972 tv sitcom "ANNA & THE KING", based of course of the show!

      I'd love to play Willy *just* to sing "Pure Imagination"....I love how it starts slowly and builds - and that last section after the musical break, where he sings "If you want to view paradise" - and the camera kind of turns around him - what an effect!

      I had no idea WW was a dud until recently, when I read the terrific book "PURE IMAGINATION", which detailed the making of it and its afterlife. I recall seeing it playing quite often, perhaps it was re-released as "kiddie matinees" a few times? Same with CCBB - I recall a HUGE hysteria when it opened, and lines around the block every time my folks took me to see it (about 7). I read that CCBB did show a modest profit, but not what UA was hoping for. But now, these two films are beloved and revered. They have a special place on the "shelf" in my heart, along with SOUND OF MUSIC, HELLO DOLLY, MARY POPPINS, and SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (another sadly overlooked, beautiful film!)

      Sorry for the long winded post, but your writings always taps into my special feelings about my favorites! :)

      Delete
    3. Please don't ever apologize for being enthusiastic about a film. I live for that stuff!
      I had no idea the same woman dubbed Eggar in Doctor Dolittle! It's just my taste but I think she has a perfectly lifeless voice. Like those ladies on The Lawrence Welk show...clear, on key, but not an ounce of expression or feeling. Like the sound from a machine.

      And I think you're right, CCBB was not really a flop, it just under performed based on its budget and expectations. In a weird way, i think Roseie O'Donnel (atthe height of her "nice" popularity), had a part in bringing attention to both Willy Wonka and CCBB...she spoke of them endlessly on her talk show and even invited Howes as a guest.
      lastly, I love The Slipper and the Rose, a film I only discovered though cable TV. Thanks Michael, for continuing a fun conversation!

      Delete
  5. Ken, So well written.

    I too love this movie and cannot stand the Tim Burton version; I am so over his 'too weird to be true' approach to movies. I know there are millions who will disagree, but I'm over him.

    Your line, "I've long held that children, in essence, aren't really that different from adults" reminded me of a statement I made to my then pre-teen niece Michelle when she was telling me the woes of school and she couldn't wait to be an adult. I said and still maintain, "Adulthood and working is just like high school except you get a paycheck. The same cliques and the same outcasts," so thank you for that statement because it is so true.

    While you describe the kid roles so well, I look at them now on commercials and on TV shows and all I can think is, 'slap the brat' and the people that are writing these 'kids' is it really their role to be the parent, the smartest one in the room, smug or just a swift pain? It's a wonderment and sadly something I think will never change so long as adults in focus groups laugh: ugh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cathy
      I feel 100% the same way about Tim Burton. the last film of his I liked was "Sweeney Todd." Imposing his self-conscious, weirdness-on-steroids approach to this sweet story gave me acid indigestion.
      And yes, it's all too true that high-school is eternal. One of the joys of being self-employed is the merciful avoidance of work environments with dynamics that play out EXACTLY like high-school.
      It really doesn't change. If you're lucky, adulthood is high school with a better vocabulary and fashion sense, but high school just the same.

      And on the topic of TV commercials, how many ads would fall under the heading "slap the brat"? The kind of brat Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompas castigate are staples of TV programming now.
      Part of the fun of watching bratty kids of the sort portrayed by Jane Withers and Patty McCormack was that they were so clearly portrayed as the villains. Now, the bratty kids who get the last word are the ones were supposed to identify with.
      Were Willy Wonka around today, he'd lock his gates and let another ten years go by before opening them.

      Delete
    2. Oh if only Willy Wonka were here today! I think the whole too smart and cleaver, slap the kid thing started for me with Danny Partridge and now we watch adults being schooled by their kids and acting as if they have no time for the input from their parents; so old school. Now I know we all went through the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' phase and went out to burn our fingers anyway, but I have to say that more and more the kids on TV and is movies seem to be a blend of Veruca and Violet; missing are the supposed brains.

      Delete
    3. I sometimes try to think back to when I saw my first bratty kid on TV (presented as a hero) and I think you've nailed it...it was that loathsome Danny Partridge! In the movies i always blame Alfred Lutter in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but I'm sure there were other before.
      I never have and never will find bratty kids adorable. If they're going to be brats, I like them villainous and homicidal, not sympathetic!

      Delete
  6. Bravo, Ken! Scrum-diddley-umptious review of one of my favorite films of all time...from Gene Wilder's inspired characterization to Bricusse & Newley's memorable score to the wonderful supporting performances, particularly Albertson and Kinnear, and the creative production design that brought the book to vivid life, this one is a winner! And surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the book(s).

    I'm very surprised that Dahl disliked this film, but no author likes to hand off his work to others for reworking. (Example, when Stephen King started writing the screenplays for TV film remakes of his books, they never come out as entertaining as the original Carrie and The Shining...) An I agree with you--can't imagine he would have liked the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp fiasco of a remake at all.

    Roald Dahl wrote some of the greatest children's books ever...all with dark underpinnings rooted in reality...so you're right on in calling this a fairy tale.
    And I love your comparisons to today's YouTube and reality show generation...these brats and their parents are SO Honey Boo Boo and Real Housewives, aren't they?

    Another great article...and Ken, I busted a gut with your Elke Sommer off her diet aside...Frau Gloop looks and sounds just like her: "He'll be made into marshmallows in five seconds!!" Talk about a freak-out!! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chris
      You put it perfectly in saying this film is faithful to the spirit of the books. I've never felt the screenplay's omission or deviations were ever in conflict with Roald Dahl's vision.

      And yes, should someone ever endeavor to remake this film in terms relevant to the times, the reality-show Honey Boo Boos and various Real Housewives of today would be Wonka's targets.

      By the way, just reading the Frau Gloop quotes you and Michael Whelan have supplied make me smile! Like "the Wizard of Oz" each time I watch "Willy Wonka" I find new things to marvel at, more jokes and comic references I missed. Such a clever, clever film.
      Thank you for the very nice input and compliments, Chris!

      Delete
    2. The movie is teeming with adult jokes just like modern day animated movies are these days. Mrs. Teevee thinks she knows what Wonka is playing on the mini piano that unlocks a door. She says smugly and wrongly, "Rachmaninoff!" when its a really a very famous passage by Mozart. Grandpa Joe has a great line just before they board the Wonka Mobile filled to overflowing with carbonated beverages as fuel. Charlie asks if it will go fast. Grandpa Joe replies, "It should Charlie, it has more gas in it than a politician."

      Delete
    3. You're so right. I never knew about the music joke until I read the book Mel Stuart co-wrote about the making of the film. I think the biggest surprise to me was that I never recognized Nazi official Martin Bormann as the fake Paraguay winner. There's something very cool about a film that trusts itself enough not to shine spotlights on its many jokes and clever bits of barely-heard dialog.

      Delete
  7. I also love "You'll boil him up, I know it!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! Mrs.Gloop's incredulous reactions to Wonka's indifference are priceless!

      Delete
  8. Had to add that my favorite-ever viewing of this film was on a big screen at my university with a group of fellow college kids, all of whom had properly toked up before the screening...including me....and I remember that everyone thought Charlie's downtrodden mom at the washtub singing Cheer Up Charlie was the funniest scene in the movie...the whole audience was laughing their asses off...the actress's sweet youthful singing voice (dubbed?) did not match her mature careworn face....it still gives me the giggles every time.

    - And YES, Michael Whelan, that was Mrs. Gloop's best line!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love this, what a hilarious memory! And it reminds me...way back in the late 60s, the only reason Disney got me into a theater to see a re-release of "Fantasia" was that it was rather blatantly to the college crowd as a "head' film. Did Paramount do the same with "Wonka"? It certainly would have been a savvy marketing trick for a film that arrived DOA at the theaters.
      As I mentioned in a previous comment response, I really think the terrible dubbed voice they give to Charlie's mother doesn't do that song any favors. In the book director Mel Stuart co-wrote about the making of "Willy Wonka", he notes (with no ill-feelings) that "Cheer up Charlie" is consistently edited out of TV broadcasts of the film.
      The singer doing the dubbing is Diana Lee, and her lovely (if Miss America bland) voice was equally ill-suited for the dubbing she supplied Liv Ullman in "Lost Horizon."

      Delete
  9. I cannot thank you enough for this post Ken!

    Gene Wilder's performance is outstanding, and it is only from being older that I think one can begin to appreciate it all the more. There are so many quirks (and dialogue) that he delivers which went straight over my head as a kid, and now make me laugh with every single viewing (His dead-pan reaction to Mrs Gloop's demand he save her son "Do something!" ... "Help. Police. Murder")

    Some of the best humor in the film I feel is from the Wonka-mania vignettes as you mentioned. Again, watching as a child they made little sense, now they are some of the highlights of the film. The man talking to a psychiatrist for instance, the dialogue mentions " ... to believe in one's dreams is a manifestation of insanity". It would have made no sense the child-me, but is one of the reasons to return to it as an adult; these small scenes are knock-outs.

    I am surprised Dahl did not like the film adaption, as I thought that the Wilder's Willy Wonka (albeit, different from the novel) still treated children in the manner you would expect from his books, aloof, eccentric and as you say, almost nonchalant. A perfect example might be the boat scene. He doesn't seem to care if it spooks the children or the adults. He is too busy enjoying himself, and affixes a strange contented glazed grin as they ride faster and faster through the nightmarish tunnel, while the adults and children scream.

    Finally, forgive me, I just had to include one of my favorite quotes: it comes from one of the vignettes in the search for golden tickets.

    "I'll give them anything, anything they want. All I want is to have Harold back!"
    *phone rings*
    "Go ahead we're listening ..... uh-uh .... uh-huh ...."
    "What did they ask for? Whatever it is they can have it!"
    "They want your case of Wonka bars ... .... Mrs Curtis did you hear me? Its your husband's life of your case of Wonka bars!"
    " .... How long will they give me to think it over?"

    Thank you so much for this post Ken, it really made my day :)

    Mitchell

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Mitchell
      You made MY day with your compliments and sharing your enthusiasm for this film. Everything you say points to why "Wonka" is such an enduring film and so many people like to visit it again and again.
      There are sooo many nuances to Wilder's performance, and indeed, many are ones you're likely never to take notice of until you grow older. He always cracks me up by how unconcerned he is with the danger the kids have placed themselves in, and I like that Wilder was able to find a way to show that Wonka is kind, but he's also someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly.
      I honestly can't say enough about Wilder as Wonka. At all times he's doing about 100 things at once, and instead of broadcasting them, he's relying on you to be sharp enough to catch them.
      Which, in reference to those great Wonka-mania vignettes you reference, is the order of the day.
      Thank you for providing the dialog to the scenario that was my absolute favorite as a kid (and sill is) the actors play it so straight, it's like a scene from another film, and what a great payoff!
      Wonderful observations, Mitchell. So happy you enjoyed the piece!

      Delete
  10. Argyle, here. It took me a while to warm up to this one. I really loved the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (“James and the Giant Peach” as well) and would get really attached to the illustrations in books like that. And these were library books; I wasn’t deprived exactly, but it was a big deal to buy a book (or new clothes or practically anything) in our household. I saved for years to buy a bike. It was pretty nineteenth century when I think about it. So I probably read the book I was 10, and three years later there’s a movie. At some point, there must have been an ad in a magazine for a Willy Wonka candy making kit and I ordered it. I remember this as being before the movie came out. It must have been cheap and I must have been desperate to risk the parental approbation ordering something like that would have engendered. (My parents were not mean, they just had a very firm sense of what was valuable and what was not. This is Presbyterianism.) I’m actually not bitter about any of this - it’s saved me from a lifetime of cheap broken coffee makers, regrettable shoes, and gigantic stuffed furniture. On the other hand, it takes me forever to decide to buy something, and I’m not much fun. The candy making kit included yellow plastic candy bar molds of different sizes, labels with the WW logo (hideous typeface) and probably some golden tickets. You melted chocolate, poured it in the molds, put them in the fridge, and then wrapped them up when they were hard. My younger brother (he would have been 7) and I made lots of boring plain chocolate bars. We probably tried to sell them to neighborhood kids. I can’t say that it was a craft that really inspired you. I think there were actually real, in-store WW candy bars that were produced and sold for a long time (years?) after the movie faded. That always struck me as odd.

    I’m really not trying to be all fancy, but the original illustrations of those books totally spoiled me for the movie adaptations. And sometimes the illustrations were pretty simple. Before writing this, I had to google to make sure that Hugh Lofting did his own illustrations for the original “Doctor Dolittle” books. He did. And when I saw those again that whole world came back to me. It’s the same with the original “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” illustrations by John Burningham (I had to look that up, too.) They created such an intriguing, sinister, mysterious mood for that book that when I saw the movie (achingly anticipated) I was almost repulsed. But I guess film makers have to try. I’ve even thought that someone should try (again) to do a faithful adaptation of the DD stories; they are so gentle and charming and fun. I have tried to re-watch the Rex Harrison version (it was a huge, disappointing deal to me when I was a kid, one of the very few times our whole family went to a movie including my father - next time “Murder on the Orient Express”- and it was my brother’s very first movie) but it’s like childhood anguish all over again.

    I have gotten to where I can watch and appreciate CCBB. Knowing that Neuschwanstein and choochy-face are coming gets me through Sally Ann Howes. I was planning to go see it in 70mm in Chicago last year until I found out the print was all pink. But it’s still an absolute screeching hairpin turn from the book.

    But back to Willy, the issue at hand. Eventually I realized how incredible Gene Wilder is, how open-ended some of the songs are, and how generally subversive the whole thing is. Even if the type face is still super tacky. Weirdly enough, I also sort of like the Tim Burton version. I’ve only seen bit and pieces on TV, and I have zero warmth for Johnny Depp, but in small chunks I think it creates a pretty good atmosphere. Thank you, Ken, for your always thought-provoking writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Argyle
      As I am older than you, I'm surprised I don't remember the Wonka candy maker, but perhaps that is exactly the reason WHY as well.
      But because I never knew that promotional toy existed and virtually no one ever references it (most sources cite how Quaker dropped the marketing ball by failing to produce real candy bars at the stores to coincide with the release of the film) your recollection of actually having possessed one of these (at a startlingly low price of $1 plus a couple of boxtops?) is a great addition to this post.
      As per favoring the book over the movie, that is very understandable, especially in children. 70s production values - and Willy Wonka was a not a film with a huge budget, can't possibly compare to a child's imagination.
      I think a person's first exposure to a particular property always makes a huge impression, and there is no reason to alter it...those early exposures are special to us. I love this film and Wilder's Wonka largely because it was my first exposure to the material. Even the lovely book paled in comparison to me. I think that happens all the time, so you Doctor Doolittle reaction makes sense. (Besides, I think it is a singularly charmless affair with joyless music.)

      What I've found (as I've gotten older) is that there is somethign liberating about relinquishing a film from the responsibility of being particularly faithful to it's adaptive source material. It's lovely when its a wonderful book faithfully translated (Rosemary's Baby), but sometimes (That Cold Day in the Park) a wild deviation from the original can yield something surprising and new.

      Lastly, that Chuchi Face number in CCBB is THE ultimate moment for me. It's my absolute favorite. So cool that you think so too. Thanks again for a terrifically personal take on one of my posts. So much fun for me. Thanks!

      I found an online image of the Wonka candy-making toy you so amusingly recalled: http://www.tvandfilmprops.com/props-for-hire/film-props-for-hire/willy-wonka-props-for-hire/willy-wonka-the-chocolate-factory-promotional-candy-factory-kit-paramount-1971/

      Delete
  11. Hi Ken,

    Delightful as always. I saw this in the theatre originally also but don't have a really clear memory of it aside from enjoying it. It was once I was able to watch it years later with my sister's kids that it really engaged me. Perhaps it was seeing it freshly and watching them discovering it that heightened my pleasure in it but by the end of that first repeat viewing it had become one of my favorite children's films.

    Of course seeing it again as an adult I could understand it on a different level then as a kid and got many of the veiled references in Gene Wilder's comments. Speaking of Wilder this is a perfect example of actor and part coming together at just the right moment. It's a shame the film was deemed a flop on initial release, it assuredly kept his work from being acknowledged as it should have been. It obviously didn't hurt his career and now is a highlight but at the time it wasn't given the praise it deserved.

    It's not just him of course credit should go to the casting director in filling every role with a performer who is just right for their role. I love the absolutely heinous Veruca Salt. I recently discovered that Julie Dawn Cole who played her published a memoir of her time on the set called I Want It Now! which I've been searching for, fruitlessly so far, but which I'm sure will be fascinating once I track it down.

    I love your description of Ursula Reit as an off diet Elke Sommer but as someone else mentioned when I first saw the picture I momentarily thought, was Shelley Winters in this and I don't remember?. All the parents are pretty awful but the one I've always found the most disturbing is Veruca's mother in her tiny bit who just sits and knits speaking in a monotone while that little hoyden tramples everybody and everything around her. I don't dislike Grandpa Joe as much as some seem to, I think the fact that he's played by the very likable Frank Albertson helps, but thinking about his part he is a trouble maker. It's his idea to drink the fizzy pop drink that almost gets Charlie and he kicked out and his recovery is incredibly rapid for somebody whose been bedridden for 20 years. So perhaps not the ideal role model.

    One of the things I really love about the film and with CGI is increasingly becoming a lost art is the set design. It seems incredible now that it was ignored come awards time. Both the London set but particularly the factory is a fest for the eyes and the use of bright colors which would appeal most to kids is inspired. Computer generated oranges, yellows and purples just can't match the actual texture of those hues and real sets. Plus everything is so cheerful, nowadays gloom is the go-to setting for most everything.

    I've never seen the remake. I was never even slightly inclined but when a friend saw it the day it opened and called me to tell me it was one of the worst things she'd ever seen I was even more confident in my indifference. I'm not adverse to remakes by and large but once they get it right why bother? Sometimes there's a good idea and the execution is wanting. The Maltese Falcon was remade at least twice under various titles before John Huston was able to get the elements to align properly but the thing is he got it right so stop there. Same with Oceans 11, surely not in the same class as Falcon, the Rat Pack version is a sloppy mess but it had an intriguing idea and the Clooney/Pitt remake while hardly a classic certainly improved on it. All well and good but Willy Wonka is about the best they could do with the material, leave it alone. Unfortunately Hollywood never learns such things as the TV tries at Casablanca, The King and I and countless others attest.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane Ken!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joel
      Your memory of seeing this film with your sister's kids reminded me of a time I re-watched "Willy Wonka" with my nephews' two sons (grandnephews?). The two little boys were raised in Germany and spoke fluent German but spoke and understood very little English, but I put Willy Wonka on and they were transfixed by it. Watching them watching it gave me a renewed respect for the charm of the film. Even two kids raised in the era of video games and sensory-overload action films sat wide-eyed at this wonderful movie.

      I haven't read that book written by the now-grown Veruca Salt, but in reading two books on the making of the film and hearing the DVD commentary and various cast and crew interviews, it calls to my attention how much care can go into a film, and when it fails to make money for a studio, how it is so dismissed.
      As a culture, I think we harbor the idea that hit movies are made by talented people who really care and flops are due to some shortcoming in the execution. Alas, closer to the truth is that a great many of the biggest blockbusters of all time are lazy corporate product (Marvel comics) and that sometimes a lot of hard work and genius go into films that just don't find their audience. The lucky ones, like "Wonka" eventually do. Most don't.
      It's easy to imagine that, had the film been a hit, Gene Wilder's performance, the music score, and the film's art direction would have all received their just attention.
      A common complaint among film fans is how each year, the Oscars seem to less represent the best works of a particular year, than the best of the successful releases each year. Some films deserve their obscurity, but Willy Wonka is an example of a film dismissed by the public that industry should have taken note of.

      Like the point you make about real sets over CGI. I'm lest the anti-CGI hater than I used to be, bet there is undeniably something lost with all the elaborate magic that special effects can produce today.
      A big problem with the Tim Burton sequel for me was how "removed" from peril all the kids looked because of how obviously fake their CGI comeuppances were. They were 100% more elaborate, 100% less compelling. CGI can pull the life out of things.

      And as you say about the remake issue...fine if a film has never really gelled (like a decent "The Great Gatsby," but as you say, if they get it right...why bother. Crap films still outnumber excellent ones 9 to 1. I'm a huge believer in the value of the remake of the flop or misguided attempt, but leave the few cinema gems alone...it is only a very rare talent that can find something new in material beyond wasting people's time while exploiting brand-name goodwill.
      Thanks for sharing your memories about this film and sparking more food for thought topics!

      Delete
    2. Hi Ken,

      Just thought I'd drop back in to say I found that memoir by Julie Dawn Cole who played Veruca Salt! It had some wonderful stuff about making the film, the cast and other film makers as well as about the rest of her life. She's a psycho-therapist now who still does occasional acting roles. The only downside to it was that her co-author who I imagine was engaged to spruce up the writing went overboard and the text was too flowery and often didn't seem to be in Julie's voice. I'm still glad I sought it out, next time I watch the film I'm sure it will add even more to my enjoyment of the it.

      Delete
    3. Thank for the update, Joel. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I really get a kick out of hearing about the filmmaking process from the individuals involved. As you say, it sometimes adds to the enjoyment of a film.

      Delete
  12. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is a picture that I saw many times as a child, and many years later in my adulthood, I've been fortunate enough to revisit it on numerous occasions at the revival theatre (the Astor typically pairs it with "The Wizard of Oz"). It still draws a healthy number of children, so I guess a lot of kids really do enjoy watching other kids in films (or at least don't mind the experience).

    The production design on this film is fabulous. How wonderful to behold Wonka's factory and know that all those chocolate waterfalls, candy mushrooms and lollypop flowers were physical and not just computerised creations (whether all this stuff actually tasted anything like what it represents is a different matter entirely). I really appreciate the art and craft that went into it all. It's much more impressive than picturing some computer nut tinkering away at a keyboard with a programme that can make practically anything.

    I'm not sure how many folks who remember the film from when it was first released will know this, but in the late 1990s there was a female-fronted rock group called Veruca Salt. Never before had a group been named more appropriately, as the "music" from these gals was just an annoying as their namesake. You know, back in the '90s, kids would ridicule the musical taste of their parents from the '70s. I think the time is right for the thirty-somethings of today to endure some mocking from their own children about the garbage they helped make popular 20 years ago (not that the children of today can talk...).

    Oh, by the way, I couldn't stand "The Brady Bunch", either!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mark!
      Yes, the real-life effects of a film like this (one which, comparatively speaking, is considered a low-budget musical) are infinitely more engaging than even the most spectacular CGI.
      I know there is no going back where progress is concerned, but the tangible in a movie always feels so much more immediate...especially in fantasy films.
      I do remember the band Veruca Salt, by the way, although i'm happy to say their actual music has faded from memory.

      Delete
  13. IMDb doth send me to thee again ! I love the 1971 Willy Wonka film. I 1st viewed it in England after it had opened there. I was seated amongst a crowd of young cockneys ( I felt like I had stumbled into a reunion from ' To Sir With Love ' ) & realised that this would be a special, memorable evening. They had already seen it before ( either that day, or perhaps on an earlier day ) & were prepared with audience-reaction comments ( a la the later Rocky Horror showings -- a precursor, in a sense ) . When Veruca Salt ( Julie Dawn Cole ), the ultimate enfant terrible, 1st appeared, they leapt into wondrous naughty commentary. When she exclaimed, ' I WANT IT NOW !!! ' , the men yelled, ' Awright, luv, I'm coming ! ' , & the girls yelled, ' Nympho - mine- iac ! ' ( Some of the parents weren't pleased. ) Delightful, wondrous memories of Pure Imagination for me these are.

    I hadn't realised that Dahl wasn't pleased by the 1971 film & am saddened to learn that fact ( de gustibus non disputandum est -- no accounting for tastes ) . I have read much about the film through the decades. Eg, Julie Dawn Cole turned 13 on the day of filming the ' bad egg ' scene. She told the director that falling from the platform down unto a mattress concerned her, for she had nearly bumped her head from the recoil bounce during a rehearsal. She asked if she could be caught, instead. The director readily agreed & told her she could choose any crew-member she wished as her catcher. She chose a man she had a big crush on ! That was her own 13th-year birthday present to herself, naughty ( but clever ) girl ! Mel Stuart commented that the financial backer, the Quaker Oats Company, was the best backer he has ever had, for they had only 1 condition, viz : the title must commence with the name of Willy Wonka. Otherwise, they were completely invisible. Quaker Oats sponsored the film as a promotional tie-in for their up-coming chocolate bars. Unfortunately, the bars were released during the Summer & had not been tested properly for heat-resistance. They melted en masse & had to be returned to the manufacturer en masse. Quaker Oats later sold the film to Warner Brothers.

    It's a pity about the want of commercial success. It was released in 1971, a very turbulent era with little market for sweet films. It's a scrumpdiddlyumptious film !


    Ciao ! -- Pearl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pearl
      I love your description of the "Wonka" screening. It sounds like so much fun. (Maybe not if I was a kid, but certainly later when I would have appreciated the randier remarks.)
      The first few times I saw it, the theater was never very crowded, and the few there weren’t very demonstrative.

      Given its newfound popularity here in the states, I wonder if screenings at revival theaters have any kind of interactive call-and-response going on. The cultish reputation of the film certainly lends itself to it.

      As for Dahl not being pleased with the final film, had he lived to see the Tim Burton remake, I'm sure he'd look upon the Wilder film as a minor classic.
      Thanks for sharing the anecdotal stories on the making of the film, specifically the amusing Veruka being caught by her crush story, which I'd never heard.
      I'm glad to hear you're a fan, and i think you're right about the social climate of the 70s (soooo serious) not being the best for a small, good-natured film like this.

      In response to you PPS: I agree with every word. The Tim Burton "Wonka" was so bad it was like a propaganda film FOR the original.

      Delete
  14. PS : also love the Addams Family ( & the Munsters ) .

    PPS : absolutely despise the remake by Depp & Burton. The character of Wonka must choose a successor, for he is either late-middle-aged or old ( though still sprightly & lively & vivacious ) . Wilder is perfect : a completely credible aging businessman. Depp was far too young & juvenile. I realised how bad the film was going to be when I viewed the scene with the melting-wax-doll display. Fortunately, I had not wasted any money supporting this disgraceful travesty when it was at the cinema ; I waited till I could check it out from my local city-library branch. Shame on you, Warner Bothers, Burton, & Depp ! You lot have made me quite cross.

    ReplyDelete
  15. PPPS : Happy / Merry Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year, & 12th Night ( also a great play by Bill Shakespeare ) !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And a very Merry Christmas to you as well, Pearl! I really must send my thanks to IMDB for always sending you back here.

      Delete
  16. One final tidbit which I happen to recall but neglected to mention was that the on-screen candy bars were really stale Mars bars flown in from America to Germany. The kids were really acting when they were eating them with smiles. They had great parties, though. --Pearl ( c'est tout, that's all )

    ReplyDelete
  17. Greetings! Love this blog! And I love this movie!

    I was actually okay with the 2005 film adaptation, but no, it's not a patch on this film, which I've loved since I was a toddler of the 1980s and ranks up with "Being There" and "Beauty and the Beast" (the Disney version) as my all-time favorite movies. I've become a minor expert in adaptations of the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" over the years -- did you know there's an opera ("The Golden Ticket") and at least 3 different stage musical adaptations, dating back to a 1980s UK touring show? Leslie Bricusse actually co-wrote a musical, "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka", in 2005 that is effectively the songs from this film plus some new numbers in a different script. For a while it seemed every community theatre that had to put on an annual kids-cast production was doing it (I saw 3 different productions). Unfortunately, the new songs were treacly, the book made mincemeat of the novel's structure (no mystery about Wonka at all), and much of the sharp humor was dulled.

    By comparison, the West End stage musical adaptation of the novel seriously needs more love -- it's fantastic. It has a lot of the same basic strengths as the 1971 film (structure, wit, warmth, etc.), but gets to its goals in fresh ways, and takes advantage of the stage medium as well as the movie takes advantage of film. The kids' vices are amusingly updated and played up (your comment on bad kids getting rewarded with online/TV fame? Well, this Violet is a starlet who has no talent but her gum chewing yet has her own line of perfume), and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's songs offer up a little bit of everything stylistically -- "Oliver!"-style tunes, disco, polka, British music hall, etc. (It also shows up the movie at one point -- "Cheer Up Charlie" pales against "If Your Mother Were Here", which serves a similar function.) It definitely doesn't stint on black comedy, and there are a few nods to the 1971 film worked in ("Strike that, reverse it" becomes the basis for a hilarious patter song) before "Pure Imagination" is trucked out as the 11 o'clock number. I saw the show twice in London with the original cast; Douglas Hodge made the perfect stage Willy Wonka, with his own unique unpredictability (imagine a Disney animated musical in which the hammy, urbanely witty villain is the character you get to root for...). The cast album is definitely worth a listen if you love the basic story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pleased to meet you, Miss Rori, and thank you very much!
      I love that you are so enthusiastic about the West End production, so much so that I'll give a listen to the cast album a try. I know i certainly liked the photos of the production i came across researching this piece, but you make it sound like a worth update of this, my favorite.
      You, in fact, sound like a rarity, someone who adores the original film and book, but has no problem with wildly divergent adaptations so along as they remain faithful to Dahl's tone.
      I had no idea "Willy Wonka" had been adapted so many times and in so many ways!
      That's a wonderful, expansive quality to have (one I don't believe I possess). Can't tell you how much your informative contribution has added to the comment section of this post. I hope future visitors to this site will be inspired to explore the various incarnations of "Willy Wonka you've brought to our attention.
      Thanks for visiting the site and especially for taking the time to say you enjoy it. Much appreciated!

      Delete
    2. No problem. I'm flattered by your praise and I hope you get some pleasure from the cast album!

      I found this blog while looking up reviews of "Lost Horizon", since it had been on TCM last Friday in the overnights as they were wrapping up a month-long retrospective of roadshow musicals. It was nice to find a place that looks at films like those and isn't just bluntly snarky and cruel, but witty, informative, and giving praise to long-maligned titles (yay "The Wiz"!). I'll go and putter around some other comment sections now...

      Delete
  18. By now, you're probably able to guess what I'm going to say first: yes, as a little girl, I had a big crush on Gene Wilder in this film. In fact, just the "freak-out" photo gave me an enjoyable little shiver, as I've always been a sucker for that capacity to convey impish intelligence with a scintilla of potential malice (something else, believe it or not, Justin Deas is great at too, though on a more current level, Tom Hiddleston is a pretty dab hand at it as well).

    In any case, given that I grew up to marry a hilarious, curly-haired nice Jewish boy with lovely blue eyes, Mr. Wilder's enduring influence on my developing psyche is practically incontestable. :)

    However, Günter Meisner scared the bejeezus out of me--hey, I was only five--and I've still found him hella creepy on subsequent viewings. It never made sense to me that Grandpa Joe could dance if he had been in bed for twenty years, either.

    I love, love, LOVE the art direction on Tim Burton's films, and even most the CGI stuff doesn't bother me (except now I'm flinching, thinking of the Futterwacken dance in Alice in Wonderland, if that was CGI--okay, some of the CGI doesn't bother me), but Johnny Depp's Michael-Jackson-in-an-Amelie-wig performance completely ruined Willy Wonka for me. I'm not a big MJ fan to begin with--the public refusal to acknowledge his obvious profound psychosis doesn't help matters--and Mr. Depp impersonating him was maybe even more creepy than the real thing. Just...UGH. You're completely right, as usual: Gene Wilder IS Willy Wonka, no-one else need apply!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lila
      You got me to thinking; i wonder if it's possible (at least when i was young) to like any actor without harboring at least a little bit of a crush on them. Persuasive acting is so much like seduction.
      Teen and pre-teen fandom certain had to be a place to channel a lot of hormonal restlessness, and who knows...maybe it also helped shape and refine the things we would ultimately be seriously attracted to in real life. In some way landing a flesh-and-blood iteration of Willy Wonka can't be a bad thing.

      This film must have been pretty heady stuff for a 5-year old. Most people who were small kids during this time cite either Gunter Meisner in this film or the Child Catcher in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as the most terrifying villains.
      The production values on this film are somewhat modest by today's standards, so i can understand if children might long for a more extravagant-looking Willy Wonka remake (although I guess no one seems to mind the simplicity of the original OZ), but your hilarious description of whatever Johnny Depp was going for in his interpretation of Willy Wonka is right on the nose.
      it's distractingly weird and comes with a little too much of an "icK" factor.
      And I love the point you make about MJ and public denial.
      I'm of a mind to think several truths can be true at once...meaning that as a fan of Roman Polanski's work, I don't need to pretend he isn't what he is in able to enjoy it. What goes on inside of me is complicated and not entirely solved. Similar to Michael Jackson. I love his music, but I pretend he wasn't also one seriously messed up man.
      My partner and I have had lots of talks (all inconclusive) about the art produced by reprehensible individuals. (is it ever possible to stand alone...enjoyed with out condoning the creator?).
      As is often the case with your comments, Lila, you seem to fill me with ideas for new essays! Thanks!

      Delete
  19. I meant the *public's* refusal, oops! Sorry!

    ReplyDelete