August 18, 2021
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Grade: 70/100

Director: Mel Stuart
Stars: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson

What it's about. Based on the Roald Dahl novel. Filmed in Munich, Germany, but clearly set in America. Reclusive and eccentric Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) is a world-famous chocolate maker. His factory is located near Charlie (Peter Ostrum), a polite and humble boy who lives in poverty with his mother (Diana Sowle) and four elderly grandparents, including Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson).

The news breaks that Wonka has issued five Golden Tickets that will allow admission to his factory for a particular day, along with a lifetime supply of chocolate. The tickets are are hidden within select Wonka chocolate bars. A worldwide rush is on to purchase the candy bars and obtain the tickets.

One by one, the bars are discovered. Because it is a movie, each of the finders are children: obese Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), shrill and spoiled Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), television-obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen), and of course Charlie, our everyman boy hero.

On the great day, the five children gather at the gates of Wonka's chocolate factory, accompanied by a parent. Except Charlie takes Grandpa Joe instead of his mother. Mr. Wonka's great factory is more like a fun house, and a dangerous one at that, since one child after another is dispensed with in an "accident" until only Charlie is left. But it is a happy ending for him.

The boy who played Charlie, Peter Ostrum, never made another movie. He turned down all subsequent film contracts and roles, and eventually became a veterinarian.

How others will see it. Supposedly, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was a box office disappointment. It did receive positive reviews, and landed an Oscar nomination (for Best Music) and a Golden Globe nomination (Gene Wilder as Best Actor).

Years later, it was a hit in its video release. In 2014, it was added to the prestigious National Film Registry. Today, it has a sizeable 187K user votes at, and the user rating is lofty at 7.8 out of 10. Interestingly, there is a fairly wide spread between American viewers (8.1) and non-American viewers (7.5), perhaps because the film's cruelty toward the bratty children goes over better in the cynical U.S.A.

How I felt about it. The first observation about this movie is that it is exceptionally well cast. That is the most important difference between the 1971 classic and the 2005 remake, Johnny Depp aside. So, let's give a shout out to Marion Dougherty, the uncredited casting director for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory..

The costumes are really good, also. And we like the art direction. So, respective nods go to Helen Colvig and Harper Goff.

In a film full of fine performances, the standout is Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt. She is the personification of spoiled brat, and has a great musical number before both her, and her father, are dismissed as bad eggs. Don Lane is also impressive as a candy storekeeper.

For a childrens' movie, though, there is a meanness here. Do we have to pick on the fat kid? The four bratty children are punished severely, and we wonder if Mr. Wonka was lying when he said they would be fully restored. Particularly when we never see them again.

The Oompa Loompas are odd, at best. It's great that Wonka saved them from the Hezzaluggers, or whatever, but they really need to get out more. And dwarves wearing pancake makeup shouldn't throw stones.

Then there's Mr. Slugworth (Gunter Meisner). Meisner is best known for playing Adolph Hitler in two miniseries and a feature film. Here, he is remarkable for his instantaneous appearance whenever a Golden Ticket is discovered. The best explanation is that Slugworth knows which bars have the tickets, and accompanies them until they are unwrapped.

What exactly is Willy Wonky & the Chocolate Factory? It is a satire that poses as a fantasy musical for children. It is all the more surprising that it was created by a director and a producer previously best known for making documentaries.