You know a movie is truly timeless when it is still able to shock and entertain 45 years after its release. It may be hard to believe now but Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory actually received a pretty frosty reception when it first hit theaters in 1971; in any case, the funny, slightly creepy and visually spectacular tale based on the children's book by Roald Dahl has been passed down through generations and become something of a classic.
One of the highlights of the film, of course, is the brilliant Gene Wilder in the role of Willy Wonka. It can't be argued that he put his own slightly sadistic stamp on the character, but the actor actually had more of an impact than most people realize. In what is probably the most terrifying scene in the whole movie, Wonka takes the kids on a boat ride through the factory. Suddenly, the lights change and he starts to sing, almost maniacally:
Round the world and home again
That's the sailor's way
Faster faster, faster faster
There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing
Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing
Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing
You can see the terror on the faces of the passengers, both kids and adults alike, but it wasn't just good acting — their terror was real. All the actors had been set up for was a simple boat ride; only Gene Wilder himself knew what was really in store.
And the creepy boat ride wasn't the only time the directors used the element of surprise to their advantage. When the children first enter the Chocolate Room, it really is for the first time, allowing their genuine reactions to be captured on camera. You can watch that classic clip from the movie below:
And that's not all. Wilder had another trick up his sleeve that he pulled out when filming one of the final scenes. Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, was not told beforehand that Willy would be exploding into what is now an infamous rant about Charlie's rule-breaking. The director felt that doing it that way would allow for a better, more realistic reaction and he definitely got what he wanted. Poor Charlie looks like he's about to start sobbing! See for yourself in the clip below:
Wilder said that this secret was the hardest to keep as he and Ostrum had become such good friends during the production. He wanted badly to warn little Peter about the yelling and assure him that it was only acting, but director Mel Stuart forbade it.
Wilder was very vocal about how his character should be portrayed right from the very beginning. Before he even signed on for film, he set a condition with Stuart:
"When I make my first entrance, I'd like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I'm walking on and stands straight up, by itself... but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause."
See how the idea worked out in this clip:
That's right, one of the most iconic scenes in the movie was actually the brainchild of Mr. Wonka himself, and to make it even better, once again the kids were left completely in the dark. Their looks of concern and confusion as Wilder hobbles towards them are totally authentic. When asked why he wanted to do it, he replied:
"Because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth."
Genius. Kind of creepy but genius.