Gene Wilder did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Gene Wilder portrays this eccentric owner who actually does not show up in the film until about forty minutes into a film that is an hour and forty minutes long. I consider him lead though since his character influences almost all of the actions before he appears, and he as well completely takes over the film the very moment he appears on screen until the end of the film. This is one unique performance from Wilder and from the very first moment Wonka appears on screen seemingly decrepit and weak than suddenly while seeming to fall instead doing an energetic somersault shows the unpredictable nature of both the character, and Wilder's performance as well in a single gesture.
Wilder's turn here is interesting because really in this version we know almost nothing about Wonka before we enter the factor other than he is holding a contest and doesn't like to have his ideas stolen, nothing more. When we do finally meet him Wilder still keeps his character quite the enigma, but never in a unsatisfactory fashion. Wilder though most certainly is never underwhelming in his characterization and his Wonka is a full fledged character, but only Wilder seems to know exactly everything about him. He always stays a mystery even at the end of the film. Wilder always manages to tell enough without ever giving away the inner workings of a man who frankly is the sort of character who does not need to tell you all of his secrets.
Wilder is simply entertaining in the part as he shows that Wonka never wishes to give any extra time to people who do not deserve it. He makes sure everything goes his way, and when questioned on it he outsmarts them with some double talk, nonsense or a foreign language. What works so well about Wilder's performance is that he shows that Wonka never leaves any openings for anyone to ever get the better of him he always is in charge of the tour and his factory. Wilder as usual has his manic energy in his performance, in his eyes you never know just how sane Wonka really is, but nevertheless Wilder controls every scene. Even with all of what is going on the background of scenes Wilder always makes himself that most magnetic part of the film.
This is an exceedingly entertaining performance by Wilder and never fails to make every single moment of his performance enjoyable. Every inane gesture or quick comment at the expense of his guests Wilder brings the most out of every one. He mixes it up interestingly from when he more directly and manically scares the people such as in his completely insane moment in the tunnel of horror that is unforgettably portrayed by Wilder. Wilder though some how brings it in the role when he has the much simpler smaller moments in simple dead pan cynical moments. He handles those moments with just as much precision though, as he brilliantly goes off the deep end in the tunnel scene, and it is all part of the same character.
This is just a hilarious performance by Wilder and he constantly earning his jokes without every once trying to force them, it is a completely natural performance oddly enough even though he is portraying Wonka who seems to be quite off his rocker. He still though manages to convey the more magical qualities of his character such as his performance of pure imagination. Wilder effectively shows that even though Wonka takes no prisoners when dealing with individuals he has absolutely no respect there, Wilder does show an underlying passion in his portrayal that does emphasize the more wondrous qualities of Wonka. This more childlike side of Wonka is somehow still blends perfectly with Wonka's more devious side due to Wilder's portrayal of both which always still feel interconnected.
My favorite part of his performance though is the very end of his performance where he tests Charlie to see if he really could inherit his factory. His first moment where he first attacks saying that do not even get what was promised with the tour is effectively and intensely portrayed by Wilder showing bluntly the attack that is the final test against Charlie. This works perfectly though in turn when he comes out in joy to say that Charlie finally won, telling him he plans to give him the factory when he retires. Even with all of the darker cynicism before Wilder still manages to bring a genuinely heart warming quality to the final who that wonderfully shows that even behind all the insanity beforehand there still was a good man behind it all.
This is an absolutely terrific performance by Wilder as he makes the entire last hour of the film as entertaining as it possibly could be. He stands as a memorable guide for us to follow through, well as being appropriately impossible to calculate what's next at any time. This really could be a role that could go wrong in so many ways. The idea of a man luring kids into his chocolate factory is ripe for creepiness. Just look at Johnny Depp's terrible performance as Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In all ways that Depp failed Wilder succeeds with his incredible performance that never once falls into any problems the role easily could have, even though there is not a moment in which Wilder plays the role as safe.