Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – reviewed by George

Produced by David L. Wolper, Screenplay by Roald Dahl, based on his book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, with Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and Directed by Mel Stuart, this is a fabulous confection – charming and delightful. Candy-colored sets, including one with a chocolate river, that contrast wondrously with the exteriors, that woderful Bricusse-Newley score, and great casting – this is a gem.
Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) lives with his mother Mrs. Bucket (Diana Sowle) and both sets of grandparents: Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine (Jack Albertson and Franziska Liebing), and Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina (Ernst Ziegler and Dora Altman). The grandparents are all bedridden, sleeping in the same bed with their feet all pointed toward the middle (it’s a long bed). Mrs. Bucket works long hours at a laundry, and Charlie delivers papers after school. The film begins with children released from school and running straight to Bill’s Candy Shop, where Bill (Aubrey Woods) introduces the latest Wonka creation, the Scrumdiddleieumptious Bar, and Bill sings “The Candy Man”. Cut to a window with Charlie looking in, but with no money to spend on candy. He collects his papers for delivery, gets his week’s pay, and starts out on his route. Right away he is passing the gates of the Wonka Candy Factory. The gates are always locked and no one enters or leaves. When Charlie asks about this, Grandpa Joe tells him that Mr. Wonka had to resort to locks, because other candy makers kept sending in spies disguised as workers, to steal Mr. Wonka’s secret recipes. And Slugworth was the worst.
Then the contest is announced: in only five Wonka Bars, out of the millions sold all over the world, can be found five Golden Tickets. The finders will be allowed into the Wonka Factory for a day and will receive a tour, plus a lifetime supply of chocolates. Charlie has no chance because his earnings, like his mother’s wages, must be used for the family.
The first four children who win are Augustus Gloop of Duselheim, Germany, Veruca Salt of England, Violet Beauregard of Miles City, Montana, and Mike Teevee of Marble Falls, Arizona. They are all spoiled, willful, entitled, selfish, and rude little brats. Thoroughly horrid, especially compared to Charlie, who is a loving, dependable child.
Then a fifth winner is announced and the contest is over. Charlie is sad, but he never had a chance anyway. Like the lottery, you can’t win unless you buy a ticket.
Then in quick succession the 5th winner is revealed to have forged their ticket, and Charlie finds a coin in a street drainage grate. Have you ever been really chocolate-hungry? Then  you’ll understand why Charlie heads straight to Bill’s to buy a Wonka Bar, and lo and behold: the fifth ticket! As he rushes home Slugworth catches him up, and says that Wonka is right now working on the Everlasting Gobstopper, which “will ruin me! Just get ahold of one Everlasting Gobstopper and bring it to me, so I can get the formula, and you will get 10,000 of these”, and he shows Charlie  an unspecified paper currency. Should logically be pounds, but maybe they wanted a response based on whatever kind of paper money the audience was used to.
The rule is, each child must be accompanied by an adult, and Mrs. Bucket works, so it has to be a grandparent, but which? Grandpa Joe is considered the healthiest, so it will have to be him. Having a Golden Ticket is a wondrous malady-healer, and Joe sings “I’ve Got  a Golden Ticket”.
So: Charlie and the four brats will tour the factory together. Augustus will be accompanied by his mother (Michael Bollner and Ursula Reit), Veruca by her father (Julie Dawn Cole and Roy Kinnear), Violet by her father (Denise Nickerson and Leonard Stone), and Mike by his mother (Paris Themmen and Dodo Denney).
And about 45 minutes in, Mr. Gene Wilder appears. He seems to be crippled, and it is a great entrance, one that Wilder himself created to let the audience know that first impressions are often deceiving. When Wonka closed the factory briefly to thwart thieves, he also hired a whole tribe of little people, the Oompa Loompas, to be his workers. The Oompa Loompas have their own song – same melody but different lyrics each time – to describe each child.
And Mrs. Bucket has a wonderful ballad called “Cheer Up, Charlie”, which I did not remember at all from seeing the film some 20 years ago, but I love it so much I just kept rewinding and playing it over and over.
The company filmed in Munich to save money, and really interesting to me, because I had always wondered why the movie was called “Willy Wonka and the C.F.” instead of “Charlie and the C.F.” like the book, producer David L. Wolper was looking for financing and heard that Quaker was trying to arrange product placement to introduce a new subsidiary, Quaker Candy. He went to them and they gave him the entire $2 million budget, but they wanted the Wonka name in the title (since that would now be the name of the candy bar). This info and a lot more is in the special features, which have a copyright date of 2001. All the “children” are interviewed: Peter Ostrum is now a veterinarian in Canada and only Julie Dawn Cole is still acting. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than watching this film and all the extras as many times as you want. One thing more: as good as the remake may be, and it perhaps is closer to the book, this original version totally captures the spirit of Dahl’s story and touches your heart.

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