R.I.P., Gene Wilder

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I’m so sorry to hear of the death of Gene Wilder at age 83.

Besides being known as cinema’s original Willy Wonka, there was a time when you could have claimed he was one of the funniest men in American movies. If you start naming his most memorable films, you’ll want to arrange your own comedy marathon for them. I won’t bother naming them all here, because more enterprising websites and blogs probably already have (although who couldn’t forget his co-writing and performing peak with Mel Brooks, Young Frankenstein?).

But I’d like to leave you with one of Wilder’s littler-known comedy trinkets. In 1971, he performed in an ABC-TV movie (which didn’t get aired until three years later) titled Thursday’s Game. While it’s just a “cult” movie, it has quite a pedigree: It was written by James L. Brooks (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi”), it stars Wilder and Bob Newhart, and the supporting cast includes Valerie Harper, Nancy Walker, and Ellen Burstyn.

I’ve embedded the entire movie below, but you might not want to watch the entire thing unless you’re a die-hard Wilder or Newhart fan. It’s cute enough, but dated and rather leisurely paced. But the scene that sets up the movie’s premise is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

The set-up: Wilder, Newhart, and their buddies have been playing a Thursday-night poker game for years, but only for penny-ante stakes. One of the buddies decides they ought to get serious about the game and play for real money.

The scene begins at the 8:09 mark. Bear with me, and watch the scene at least until Wilder and Newhart walk into the kitchen. It’s priceless.

(And rest in peace, Jerome Silberman.)

 

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