Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory arrived in theaters on June 30, 1971… a mind-boggling 50 years ago. The film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remains a family favorite all these years later, and deservedly so. Directed by Mel Stuart, the film presents imagery, scenes, and characters that are both candy-coated and surprisingly dark, even downright terrifying (we’re looking at you, an insane boat ride along the chocolate river, into the tunnel).
But no scene stirs more debate than the infamous sequence in which Gene Wilder’s Wonka viciously screams at Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), who has come into his office with Charlie (Peter Ostrum) to claim the boy’s lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. Wonka declares that Charlie won’t be getting the sweets because he “broke the rules.” Grandpa Joe asks, “What rules? We didn’t see any rules, did we, Charlie?” Wonka then laces into him, citing rule 37B of the contract Charlie signed. “You stole Fizzy Lifting Drinks!” he screams. “You bumped into the ceiling, which now has to be washed and sterilized. So, you get nothing!!. You lose!!! Good day, sir!!!!” Grandpa Joe then calls Wonka a crook, a cheat and a swindler, and complains that he’s built up a boy’s hopes and then smashed all his dreams to pieces. On the way out the door, Grandpa Joe vows to get even, adding, “Slugworth wants a Gobstopper… He’ll get one.” Charlie stops in his tracks, walks over to Wonka, softly places the Gobstopper on his desk, and steps away. Wonka then grasps the Gobstopper and quietly says, “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” before announcing that Charlie won and joyfully hugging the boy. Slugworth enters the room, and Charlie learns that the man works for Wonka. It was all a test. Charlie passed. The whole factory will soon be his.
Now, here’s my issue with the scene in what is one of my all-time favorite movies. Though he didn’t need to be quite such a jerk about it, Wonka was right. Grandpa Joe and Charlie DID break the rules. They were just as guilty as Veruca and Mike and Augustus and Violet, only they didn’t get caught in the act. Grandpa Joe has been a crank the whole movie – never getting out of bed, grousing about the cold floor, using Charlie’s paperboy money to buy tobacco for his pipe, calling out the kids who misbehave, etc. And he’s the one who suggests sampling the Fizzy Lifting Drink! He’s dead wrong for calling Wonka a crook. Meanwhile, though Charlie is a nice boy and ultimately does the right thing, not only did he break the rules, but if watch the “You lose!!!” scene closely, Charlie nods his head in agreement when Grandpa Joe asks, “What rules? We didn’t see any rules, did we, Charlie?”
This scene has bothered me for decades. It’s possible that Veruca, Mike, Augustus or Violet would have done the right thing… if given the chance. They weren’t… or at least moviegoers didn’t see such scenes after the Oompa Loompas sang and danced them off the screen. Even though Charlie does the right thing, Grandpa Joe has set a bad example for his grandson across the entire movie. What’s going to change once Charlie takes over the factory and must care for everything and everyone, including the Oompa Loompas? I love the ending of the movie as much as anyone – especially when the Great Glass Wonkavator smashes through the ceiling, and Charlie glimpses his house and school – but it still bothers me that Wonka suddenly forgets and forgives Grandpa Joe. Worse, Grandpa Joe is selfish right to the final frames of the movie. Wonka informs Charlie that he’s giving him the factory, adding that Charlie can move in immediately. Grandpa Joe wonders, “And me?” Seriously?
Anyway, 50 years after the fact, the “You lose!!!” scene still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Fortunately, the movie is always and forever a classic and it does end with one of the best exchanges ever: “Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted,” Wonka says. Charlie asks, “What happened.” And a smiling Wonka reveals, “He lived happily ever after.”