Cory’s given a long look at some of the more obscure pieces in Gene Wilder’s filmography this week. As he’s one of our favorite comedy stars, we were hoping to find some gems among the rocks he put out in his lifetime. Unfortunately, they were few and far between and Mr. Wilder was typically fantastic when paired with either Mel Brooks or Richard Pryor. So far, his misadventures have been mostly disappointing, but there were a couple that Cory found appealing. Given that I had a few under my belt that Cory hadn’t, he asked me to take the reins for this third and final part of our memorial to the late, great Gene Wilder:
Start the Revolution Without Me – If you were worried about having been inundated with the date and location place cards at the beginning of some of the previous films reviewed here, get ready. Nearly every scene begins with a bit of narration by Orson Welles (of all people) and the place and time. At first the gag is amusing, but knowing it’s a hallmark of some other Wilder films is a bit over done. The premise is simple yet brilliant in execution – the real French Revolution is a grand misunderstanding based on a Prince and the Pauper situation. Instead of one, they have two babies switched at birth – both regal and recluse played by Wilder and Donald Sutherland. The poor versions bumble their way towards Versailles, inciting riots along the way – examples of the battles that would precede the grand denouement. Much like the classic Twain story, the pair ends up being mistaken for the better off duo. Donald Sutherland is the surprise here, when as the royal Pierre he is foppish enough to believe his discomfort at being taken as the peasant Charles. Wilder resorts to screaming often to chew the scenery in anger as the wacky Philippe, but his poor man Claude is quite humorous in his obliviousness towards his new status. Character actor Hugh Griffith is delightful as a disoriented Louis XVI. The gorgeous Billie Whitelaw plays his randy wife Marie Antoinette much more sinisterly than Kirsten Dunst ever could have. Beyond some amusing historical parodies, such as an inane scene with the Man in the Iron Mask, this is nothing more than a completist’s dream.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
See No Evil, Hear No Evil – Despite what most people feel for this film, and the collaboration of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder as a whole, I have a soft spot for this film. Perhaps it was what introduced me to Pryor, but it also isn’t as awful as most critics would have you believe. The spotty premise itself (Pryor is deaf and Wilder is blind, but combined they witness a murder) is to blame for most of the mishaps, as it’s a loose reason to pit the two comedy legends together. I caught the film on a whim with none of the pre-conceived notions of the run Pryor and Wilder shared, but I knew Gene from Young Frankenstein at that point. I think that while the plot itself isn’t very grand, the comedy is serviceable. A bit of slapstick shows the pair’s rapport as they utilize each other’s disadvantages to turn the tables on a bully. Many mishaps later, the pair have helped solve the murder and fixed a great crime. The highlight here is a strange early performance from Kevin Spacey, who plays the main villain’s henchman. The main villain is the voluptuous Joan Severance, Spacey’s co-star on Wiseguy. Despite the criminally forced comedy coming from our heroes, the antagonist make it worth watching.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
The Little Prince – This early adaptation of Antoine Saint-Exupery’s classic children’s book may be overshadowed now by the recent Netflix edition, but in 1974, Stanley Donen’s masterpiece was the standard. Given the book isn’t terribly long, it’s surprising how padded this film is. Much of the film is inundated by strange choreography direct from this version’s Snake, played to sensual perfection by Bob Fosse. As for the other primary animal the Little Prince intersects, Gene Wilder portrayed the devious Fox. While Bob Fosse exuded all manners of danger with his menacing gesticulation, Wilder exemplified the shifty nature of a fox. Not once could you tell if the Prince was ever safe in the clutches of either creature, and I credit Wilder to that discomfiture. He’s no comedian here, and though he amuses the Prince (and us) to the best of his abilities, his soft spoken voice is perfect to entrance our young protagonist. Richard Kiley holds his own against the pair of animals and his child co-star, and despite the length, the film is quite inspiring.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Rest in peace, Willy Wonka; Waco Kid; Victor Frankenstein.