Gene Wilder was unique in his temperament and physical appearance. By that I mean he was uniquely suited for the role of his life in Young Frankenstein and equally up to the task for his classic performances in The Producers and Blazing Saddles.
Screening this month on Turner Classic are some Gene Wilder gems. Some of these are on my short list of Films that Got Away. One is the 1970’s film, Start the Revolution without me. Wilder began to perfect his controlled manic style of comedy in this piece with Donald Sutherland. It’s a spoof on the classic tale of The Corsican Brothers, with the two brothers played by Wilder & Sutherland- one set of royal birth and the other of peasant extraction, and the ensuing comedy in the dual roles is comic fodder for both Wilder and Sutherland.
The Frisco Kid was a one-off type of comedy where you might “get it” or perhaps not. But there were plenty of gems for the taking in this Western, where Wilder plays a Rabbi traveling West with his cowboy companion, played by Harrison Ford. A couple of moments are priceless: Wilder as the Jewish Rabbi is trying to eat breakfast with monks who have taken a vow of silence. This proves to be nearly impossible for the amiable Jewish persona that was Wilder. And when the pair find themselves in an Indian camp, Wilder is at his comic best when he is describing how the Jewish people celebrate in similar fashion to the Indians. “Watch that Lady! I think that lady is a Jewish Indian!“… Priceless
Speaking of cult classics, Turner Classic Movies is also showing the ever-popular Strange Brew this week. Oddly enough, this 1983 film was loosely (very loosely) based on the story of Hamlet-complete with ghosts and the Elsinore tableau thrown in for good measure. The two Second City alumni, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters fame, are perfectly cast as two hapless Laurel & Hardy-esque screwballs who are trying to make the connections and discover the secrets of the mysterious brewery. A Canadian classic, this is not for everyone, but some of the funniest bits occur when the two are seemingly just playing it loose with the off-the-cuff remarks that have been a staple for years in our household.
Start the Revolution without me, Strange Brew, and The Frisco Kid are all playing this week on Turner Classic Movies. Check your listings for the times, as most are middle of the night showings.