Join us at the Rio Theatre for an evening dedicated to celebrating one of the most profoundly loved, adored, and respected comedic actors of our time: The late, great, Gene Wilder.
Wilder was an uncannily soulful performer whose ability to say everything – while saying absolutely nothing at all – was simply without equal. We have chosen to toast him and his fantastic career with a double bill featuring two of our favourite films from his remarkable collaborative relationship with writer-director Mel Brooks; The Producers and Blazing Saddles.
Brooks first feature film The Producers managed to reach unimaginable heights of political incorrectness (before there was even such a thing). Zero Mostel plays theatre producer Max Bialystock, who has fallen on hard times. In an attempt to acquire some money, Max and his accountant (Wilder) conspire to select the worst play, the worst playwright, the worst director, and the worst actor to collaborate on a guaranteed flop, entitling them to keep the investors’ excess money. Also starring Renée Taylor.
Brooks and Wilder would work together again in the 1974 Western spoof Blazing Saddles, a daring, provocative, gleefully vulgar (not to mention laugh-out-loud hilarious!) lampoon of one of Hollywood’s favourite genres. Co-written by Richard Pryor (who Wilder would go on to work with again), Blazing Saddles was considered quite audacious for its use of racial humour to tell the story of a corrupt political boss who appoints a black sheriff (Cleavon Little) to “ruin” a tiny Old West town; instead, he becomes a formidable adversary. Also starring Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, and Mel Brooks.
“We became very good friends, and I told him about Leo Bloom in the thing I was writing called The Producers,” said Brooks. “And I said, ‘Look, I’m promising you: When we get the money, you are gonna be Leo Bloom.’ [Gene Wilder] said, ‘Oh yeah, when you get the money. You’re doing a play about two Jews who are producing a flop instead of a hit, knowing they can make more money with a flop. And the big number in it is ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ Yeah, you’re gonna get the money!” – Mel Brooks
THE PRODUCERS (Mel Brooks, 1967 / 88 mins / PG) Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom plan to make money by charming little old ladies to invest in a production many times over what it will actually cost, and then put on a sure-fire flop, so nobody will ask for their money back – and what can be a more certain flop than a tasteless musical celebrating Hitler…? The Producers own real-life distributors were also afraid that the audience would react negatively; the film had a sneak premiere in Pittsburgh in November 1967 and its official premiere in New York in March 1968, but it didn’t go on general release in the USA until November, 1968. It wasn’t released outside the US until its UK premiere in October 1969, followed by Sweden in May 1970, and Italy, Denmark and France in 1971. (They didn’t dare show in Germany until 1976.) Today, The Producers is widely hailed as a comedy classic.
BLAZING SADDLES (Mel Brooks, 1974 / 93 mins / PG) The Ultimate Western Spoof! A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lemar, a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable. After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the Governor. Hedley convinces him to send the town the first Black sheriff in the west.