Gene Wilder: Willy Wonka vs. Dr. Frankenstein

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Willy Wonka

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Gene Wilder had only one condition before accepting the role of eccentric candy maker, involving his initial appearance. Leaning heavily on a cane with a pronounced limp Wonka would slowly make his way toward the contest winners. Initially believing Wonka is a cripple the gathered crowd watches as his cane becomes stuck in a cobblestone. As he continues to walk towards them Wonka realizes that he no longer has the cane. He starts to fall forward but instead of collapsing does a forward somersault and bounces back upright in grand fashion. Why did Wilder insist on this entrance? “Because from that time on,” said Wilder, “no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Genius.

The case for Dr. Frankenstein

Gene Wilder conceived the idea of a descendant of the infamous Victor von Frankenstein while on the set of Blazing Saddles. Director Mel Brooks: “His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, ‘That’s funny.’” And so Frederick Frankenstein was born, a scientist who at first turns his back on his family’s history (“I am not a Frankenstein. I’m a Fronk-en-steen”). However, after inheriting his grandfather’s Transylvanian castle and discovering the secret laboratory (“Put…the candle…back.”) the young Frankenstein gradually accepts his fate. He succeeds where his ancestor had failed by giving his creation his own intellect and unconditional love, getting back something even greater in return—woof!

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!

(Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on MovieFanFare back in 2012. We have republished it in tribute to Gene Wilder, who passed away this week at the age of 83).