From Leo Bloom’s sniveling panic attacks to Willy Wonka’s heart-stopping “You lose!” monologue, few actors could stage an on-screen meltdown as entertaining as Gene Wilder’s. The actor, who passed away Monday at 83, played some of Hollywood’s most endearingly weird characters. And nobody could lose their cool like Wilder, with freakouts that ranged from hysterical to terrifying.
Below, we recap our favorite times Wilder totally lost his cool.
In the 1968 classic comedy, Gene Wilder’s character Leo Bloom, a nervous accountant-turned-Broadway producer, spends the entire movie teetering on the verge of a mental breakdown. Matthew Broderick reprised Leo Bloom in the Producers remake, but he could never quite grasp the manic energy that Wilder channeled into the character, making the original version so indelible.
There was the moment he decided to join Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) in the wild endeavor of bringing the fake musical Springtime for Hitler to Broadway, soliloquizing while running circles around the Lincoln Center fountain.
The moment he catches Bialystock trying to betray him, and hurls the meanest insult he can think at him before beating him to the ground.
And, in the most frantic scene in one of Hollywood’s most frantic comedies, he completely loses his mind in Bialystock’s office, which results in the iconic line, “I’m wet! I’m hysterical! And I’m wet!”
Wilder spent so much of Young Frankenstein screaming at the camera that you would almost expect his shockingly white wig and pencil-thin mustache to fall off halfway through. Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein was an unhinged scientist who spent much of his time reprimanding the dim-witted Igor — when he wasn’t extolling his own accomplishments or participating in dance routines.
The result was a comedically wild-eyed Wilder that looked even more terrifying than his supposed Frankenstein monster — especially in the film’s black and white color scheme.
Who would guess an alcoholic sharp shooter would rank as the actor’s most sane role? The Waco Kid’s best lines were played straight, but they were as entertaining if not more so than the full-body acting Wilder perfected in Producers and Frankenstein.
“Well my name is Jim, but most people call me, Jim,” Wilder delivers in the Mel Brooksclassic, a line that could be dead if not read so perfectly flat. It was one of several times he moved co-star Cleavon Little to what looked like genuine laughs.
There were a few freakouts sprinkled through the zany comedy, laced with social commentary that walked the line of offensive. But they were deadpanned and showed his range and restraint as a comedian, like the often imitated but never replicated scene showing his shaking shooting hand.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
It’s a scene that traumatized a generation. After taking viewers through Charlie and Uncle Joe’s ups and downs in Willy Wonka’s kinda-kooky, kinda-terrifying chocolate factory, the 1973 kids-movie classic takes a turn in the movie’s final minutes.
After Charlie emerges as the last kid standing, he and Uncle Joe go into Wonka’s office to ask about the prize, an unlimited supply of chocolate. Hunched over at a desk, Wonka transforms from the quirky, enchanting magician viewers think they know into a screaming monster, who blows up at Charlie and dismisses him from his office — as a test of his loyalty, of course.
Thank goodness the scene comes around at its end. Otherwise, how many childhoods would it have ruined?