When you first read Roald Dahl’s fantastic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the images that it must have created in your brain would have been so full of colour and life. There are very few instances when these pictures are brought to life almost exactly by a movie adaptation, but 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has to be close to perfect.
While many will say that it is imperfect and say that even Roald Dahl hated it, those rumours have been proven untrue as he even attended the premiere of the film. It was a rare time when all the planets aligned to allow the perfect blend of script, crew, cast, and studio that has allowed this movie to endure the test of time.
It is hard to believe that originally Paramount Studios didn’t want Gene Wilder to play in one of his most iconic roles. There were a lot of people suggested including Peter Sellers and his Goons pal, Spike Milligan. The studio also approached every member of the comedy group Monty Python, but the producers didn’t find them formidable. Finally, the studio and the producers had found their guy and offered him the role. British actor Jon Pertwee, who ended up not being able to do it because his schedule for filming Doctor Who. That would have been a very different movie.
The story of Gene Wilder’s cast goes that as soon as he walked into the audition Director, Mel Stuart knew that he was his Wonka. He even chased Wilder down after the audition to tell him that he had the role which made the producers furious. Reportedly Wilder only agreed to do the role after requesting the scene when Wonka is first seen and walks out with a limp only to do a forward role to show that he was acting. When asked why Wilder reportedly said, “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” This philosophy became a crucial part of the Wonka character and how Wilder acted throughout production.
Wilder was so convincing sometimes that the reaction of the actors in the film is genuine. In the scene where Wonka limps to greet the children actress Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, thought Wilder was hurt, and that production was going to have to be halted. Her surprise reaction when he does the roll is in the film.
During the infamous boat scene where Wonka recites the “There’s no earthly way of knowing” poem, actress Denise Nickerson was genuinely frightened because she thought Wilder had gone mad. That song was the only song in the film that was originally in Dahl’s book. The actor that played the Oompa Loompa that is driving the boat thought he was actually driving the boat and no one told him that the boat was on a rail so that his acting stayed pure.
The stories behind the making of this movie are almost as beautiful and chaotic as the classic film. Do yourself a favour and check it out again when you have a chance.
What is your favourite part of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? Which version do you like more the original or the Tim Burton remake starring Johnny Depp?