Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) Selected by Terri White, Editor-in-chief Gripping the pages of Roald Dahl’s Charlie
And The Chocolate Factory as kids, we all magicked up our own image of eccentric, bright-eyed factory owner Willy Wonka. Until we saw the forever unseeable: Gene Wilder’s singular, flamboyant, deranged yet charming Wonka, in the retitled Willy Wonka & The
Chocolate Factory. A telling change which firmly lets you know whose film this really is.
Right from his famous limp-turnedsomersault entrance, the iconic performance is actually an exercise in fevered restraint for Wilder, who is pulling on either rein throughout the movie: faster, slower, less, more! But there is one scene in particular in which he memorably lets one rein slide entirely through his fingers, setting the rhythm with his gleeful shout of, “Faster! Faster!”
The tunnel sequence opens innocently
enough: Wonka is taking the Golden Ticketwinners and their families on a boat cruise along the chocolate river, its banks decorated with brightly coloured candy. “You’re going to love this, just love it!” he promises them (and us). Then he starts to break into song: “There’s no earthly way of knowing… which direction we are going…” The boat enters the tunnel.
It begins to pick up speed as it’s plunged into darkness: a blackness broken only by psychedelic patterns and colours, flashing across contorted faces as panic rises. “What is this, a freak-out?” shrieks Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), speaking for all of us. (The actress recently claimed their alarm was actually real, as Wilder, unknown to the cast, was improvising.)
By the time there’s a choppy cut to a close-up of a centipede on Wonka’s motionless face, the message is now not one of hope, but of wonder, at witnessing such intensity, such a completely brain-bending performance. You came out of that tunnel feeling changed, for the better.