Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid To Ask) (1972) Selected by Sali Hughes, columnist
The fact Gene Wilder appeared in some of the greatest screen comedies of all time is a no-brain-required, indisputable fact. But what is more remarkable is that throughout pretty much all of these hysterical films, he is the funniest thing in them.
Just one example of this is Wilder’s performance in the second of seven vignettes as part of Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But
Were Afraid To Ask). In this particular episode, titled ‘What Is Sodomy?’, Wilder plays Doctor Ross, a well to-do physician who falls in love with Daisy, the lover of his patient, an Armenian shepherd. Daisy just happens not to be a woman, but an unnervingly hot sheep.
The surreal story is wonderful from start to finish, but the first scene in which Doctor Ross sits in consultation with shepherd Stavros (Titos Vandis), asking him completely deadpan what seems to be the problem, is an absolute masterclass in comedy acting. Stavros’ impassive admission that he’s in love with a farm animal would, in any other film, be the punchline, but here it signals a full 25 seconds of silence from Wilder in close-up. It’s fair to say that Wilder’s face — similarly to Will Ferrell’s or Marty Feldman’s — is naturally just
funny. In fact, his blank resting expression alone is enough to give anyone the giggles. But in this scene, Wilder absolutely takes it to town, showing us myriad tiny indicators of every conceivable emotion, from incredulity to revulsion, bewilderment to fear, all without saying a single word. There can be few shots in film history in which eye movements are so pregnant with meaning, so completely distinctive from one half-second to the next.
The scene is peak Gene Wilder. Twinkly, hapless, likeable, innocent and warm all at once — he’s perhaps the only actor in the history of cinema who could turn an act of heinous bestiality into a poignant, funny love story, that has audiences rooting, entirely against their will and better judgement, for a happily ever after.