Tag Archives: Gene Wilder

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975, Gene Wilder)

I didn’t know what to expect from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, other than some of the principals of Young Frankenstein to reunite. As it turns out, Smarter Brother is Frankenstein’s younger brother. For his first directorial outing, Wilder basically just mimics Brooks’s direction of Frankenstein. There are the constant fadeouts and the same scenic approach to humor.

Unfortunately, Smarter Brother is nowhere near as good.

The third act of the film is full of these lengthy sequences absent dialogue–there’s a lengthy opera performance, then a sword fight, even the last scene in the film relies on music over characters conversing. It’s good music (John Morris also composed the Young Frankenstein score), but it’s clearly masking the absence of content.

The film only runs ninety minutes and, during that final scene, I realized how much better it opened than it finished. The present action of the first third is one night, introducing Wilder as the titular character, Marty Feldman as his sidekick and Madeline Kahn as the love interest and damsel in distress. Once that first night is over, however, the film flounders. Wilder’s script still has some really funny moments, but he’s clearly churning out whatever he can to keep it moving.

Dom DeLuise shows up in the second half and is funny. Leo McKern is mediocre but likable as the villain. Wilder spends too much time on him. Roy Kinnear is mostly annoying as McKern’s stooge.

The idea alone should have made a better film.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gene Wilder; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Jim Clark; music by John Morris; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Richard A. Roth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Wilder (Sigerson Holmes), Madeline Kahn (Jenny Hill), Marty Feldman (Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker), Dom DeLuise (Eduardo Gambetti), Leo McKern (Moriarty), Roy Kinnear (Moriarty’s Assistant) and John Le Mesurier (Lord Redcliff).


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The Frisco Kid (1979, Robert Aldrich)

The Frisco Kid is a Western, but it doesn’t open like one. It opens more like a seventies Gene Wilder theme comedy (composer Frank De Vol starts out like it’s Young Frankenstein, but quickly gets bad… especially at the end). The film takes a little while to ground itself. Before Harrison Ford shows up, much of the film is Wilder making his way—a rabbi from Poland headed to San Francisco—across the United States. There are comic moments, comic dialogue, but it’s not really funny. When there’s humor, it’s not stupid—Michael Elias and Frank Shaw’s script, which has its bumps, is actually very thoughtful.

Obviously, Wilder being a rabbi in the Wild West is going to produce some comedic situations, but that religious aspect of the character is thoughtfully portrayed.

The problem is Aldrich, who apparently doesn’t know how to direct something like Frisco Kid. He doesn’t seem to get it’s not a spoof; he shoots it like a sitcom.

He also is a disaster with some of the actors. Ford, in particular, is weak. He’s likable, but his performance constantly sputters (much like his accent). Then there’s Val Bisoglio, who—along with Aldirch’s weak handling of it—turns a potentially sublime scene with American Indians into something good, but clearly failing.

The directorial failings don’t affect Wilder—he never plays the caricature he could. He’s superb.

It’s unfortunate Elias and Shaw never wrote another feature.

The film’s a moderate success, but some of its parts are amazing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Aldrich; written by Michael Elias and Frank Shaw; director of photography, Robert B. Hauser; edited by Jack Horger, Irving Rosenblum and Maury Winetrobe; music by Frank De Vol; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Mace Neufeld; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Wilder (Avram), Harrison Ford (Tommy), Ramon Bieri (Mr. Jones), Val Bisoglio (Chief Gray Cloud), George DiCenzo (Darryl Diggs), Leo Fuchs (Chief Rabbi), Penny Peyser (Rosalie), William Smith (Matt Diggs), Jack Somack (Samuel Bender) and Beege Barkette (Sarah Mindl).


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Young Frankenstein (1974, Mel Brooks)

Young Frankenstein does not feel like a Mel Brooks film. It’s so startlingly well-directed, one could almost believe he didn’t direct it himself. Brooks, for the film, has this way of keeping the camera mostly stationary and letting his actors and the sets do all the work–one can’t forget Gerald Hirschfeld’s amazing cinematography either.

Brooks–and Wilder, who co-wrote and runs wild with the film in the lead–have a sizable accomplishment here.

Wilder’s performance–and Brooks puts him in these insanely tight close-ups with an unwavering shot–is unbelievably good. Probably his best performance. He does so well alone, but also so perfectly with everyone else (Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn). It’s almost unfortunate when Young Frankenstein has to get moving with its plot, because it means it’s going to end.

Kahn’s got some hilarious moments in an extrovert role, while Garr’s a lot quieter but just as good. Garr might give the best straight acting performance. Feldman’s got maybe the flashiest role; Brooks’s tight direction keeps him from taking over the film, making sure it’s him, Garr and Wilder.

As the Monster, Peter Boyle does a fine job. It’s an almost entirely physical performance, but his facial expressions–even exaggerated–are ideal. It’s impossible to think of anyone else in the role.

Same goes for Gene Hackman’s cameo. It’s incredibly small, but it’s one of Hackman’s most memorable performances.

Reiterating, the only thing wrong with Young Frankenstein is it eventually has to end.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Brooks; screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, based on their story and a novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by John C. Howard; music by John Morris; production designer, Dale Hennesy; produced by Michael Gruskoff; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Wilder (Dr. Frankenstein), Peter Boyle (The Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blücher), Teri Garr (Inga), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Gene Hackman (Blindman), Kenneth Mars (Inspector Kemp), Richard Haydn (Herr Falkstein), Liam Dunn (Mr. Hilltop) and Danny Goldman (Medical Student).


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