“THAT’S MY CAR!”
Bonnie And Clyde (1967) Selected by Jonathan Pile, Deputy Editor
Two months before filming began on The
Producers, Gene Wilder accepted a small part in another movie — Warren Beatty’s Bonnie
And Clyde. His first film, it certainly isn’t much like the ones he would become famous for — in fact, the counter-culture calling card stands out as an anomaly in his filmography — but the part of kidnap victim Eugene Grizzard is quintessentially Wilder. The thing is, it wasn’t supposed to be.
Let’s recap first: Eugene and his girlfriend Velma (played by the beautifully named Evans Evans) are fooling about on her porch when the Barrow gang steal his car. They give chase, only to be forced off the road and taken hostage. After driving around for a while — telling jokes and eating burgers — they’re kicked out and left in the middle of nowhere.
The part of Grizzard, as written, isn’t supposed to be funny. Director Arthur Penn admitted as much to Wilder after filming ended. But to Penn’s delight, Wilder played it differently. From the pratfall off the porch as he chases after his stolen car to his barely concealed excitement that he’s been kidnapped by not just anyone, but by the infamous Barrow gang, he injects such warmth and humour into the character the sequence becomes one of the most memorable in the film. It was an incredibly smart (or more likely fortuitous) piece of casting. Wilder had been in plays and on TV, but his talents weren’t widely known. And while it didn’t make him a star, in retrospect it reveals he was ready — everything that audiences would love about Gene Wilder in the decades to come are on show in these five minutes. Not bad for a role that wasn’t supposed to be funny.