A Movie A Day: Quint on START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970) Happy? I’ve broken my bird!!
Published at: Aug. 8, 2008, 1:03 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Gene Wilder bridges us from yesterday’s QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX to a much more entertaining and funny movie, today’s START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME.
So the flick opens with Orson Welles standing in a palatial garden, talking to us, the audience, informing us that he is here to narrate the picture we are about to view… a picture that he is not in, he adds.
Our story is one told many times over the years (and more than a few times comedically). Set during the French Revolution we get a slapstick version of the Corsican Brothers about two pairs of twins that are mismatched at birth, one set given to a poor farmer couple and one to aristocrats.
So we have two Gene Wilders and two Donald Sutherlands. The poor ones we come to find are part of a rag-tag rebellion… unwilling, of course. They’re cowards, bunglers. The others are pompous rich kids having known nothing but privilege. Their swordmanship is renowned, almost as much as their treachery.
They are summoned by King Louis for reasons unknown, but as they are delivered the summons, the plotting Duke d’Escargot (Victor Spinetti) working on behalf of Marie Antoinette involves them in a plot to kill Louis and take France.
Of course there’s a case of mistaken identity and you get the clueless thought of bloodthirsty killers and the meanies thought mad by the revolutionaries.
I talked yesterday of my obsession with Gene Wilder… I don’t know what it is, but when he screams his lines I smile. You have the infamous “You lose! Good Day, sir!” from Willy Wonka, “My name… is FRANKENSTEIN!” from Young Frankenstein… actually, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has a ton of Wilder screaming. I love it. And he goes crazy here.
Donald Sutherland is great as the straight man. In the poor set of twins he’s every bit as goofy as Wilder, but in the aristocratic set he’s definitely the straight man.
Wilder as just perfection as the aristocratic douchebag. He’s so over the top that he circles back around again to being perfect. I don’t know of any other way to explain it. The dude is mean as shit to his poor wife, forcing her to dress up for rough sex, and when we first meet him he carries a fake hawk on his wrist. I thought it was a shitty prop until it was explained that it is a dead hawk, a pet that Wilder’s character doesn’t want to let go of, so he’s stuffed and stitched to his glove.
It’s so damn ridiculous and so damn awesome. This leads to one of my favorite parts of the film, where I took today’s subhead. Check the scene out on YouTube:
See how great Sutherland and Wilder are there?
While it’s expected that those two were going to bring it, I have to highlight an exceptional supporting cast. Let’s start with Billie Whitelaw as Marie Antoinette. The more and more I see of her I’m loving her. Before her turn in HOT FUZZ I had only really seen her in TWISTED NERVE. She was great in previous AMAD Frenzy and we follow her to tomorrow’s entry.
She plays Marie with a lot of chest… I mean breasts… I mean zest. Here Marie is a conniving wench, a horny broad fucking anything that looks at for more than 2 seconds while trying to knock off her husband, King Louis, so she can take the throne.
Louis is played by the hilarious googly-eyed Hugh Griffith. I don’t know what it is with Wilder and crazy-eyed co-stars, but between Hugh and Marty Feldman Wilder has worked with the best in the business. You’ll remember his turn in OLIVER! as the Magistrate (strangely enough, in yesterday’s QUACKSER FORTUNE Wilder and Margot Kidder make a date to see OLIVER!). We’ll see a lot more of him in the coming months as I go through some early Ealing comedies.
Anyway, he plays Louis as next to retarded, but still incredibly likable. Everybody around him is so cruel that you want him to get through all the plotting. There’s a ball scene in particular where Griffith shines. Literally. He shows up wearing a chicken costume, seemingly made of gold. He looks at the well-dressed partygoers as he is announced and is embarrassed as all hell. Whitelaw’s Antionette has a smirk as he blusters, “You told me it was a costume party” and then goes around the party telling everybody that he thought it was a costume party. He sounds so pitiful and pouty… God, he was great in the movie.
And you can not talk about this film without bringing up the gorgeous Swedish beauty Ewa Aulin, who is Christina of Belgium and is promised to Sutherland by the King if he can murder d’Escargot. She’s so beautiful she turns pauper Sutherland into an action hero. I can’t blame him. Ewa starred in CANDY and had a few horror roles, but she never broke big and quit acting in the ‘70s. Poor us. She’s light and fluffy and doesn’t showing off her amazing body, so score for all the male readers out there.
In fact, she believes poor Wilder’s fiancée is her sister and demands to see her tits, apparently comparing birthmarks to prove she’s right, so she spends the last act trying to tear Helen Fraser’s clothes off.
Final Thoughts: This film isn’t exactly a laugh riot (or is it “laff riot”?), with some jokes falling flat, but the great majority succeed. Sutherland and Wilder alone make this movie a must watch, but the tone, the gags, the supporting cast, Ewa’s boob and really smart running jokes keep the film fresh even today.