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An account of the adventures of two sets of identical twins, badly scrambled at birth, on the eve of the French Revolution. One set is haughty and aristocratic, the other poor and somewhat dim. They find themselves involved in palace intrigues as history happens around them. Based, very loosely, on Dickens's _A Tale of Two Cities_, Dumas's _The Corsican Brothers_, etc.Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
Bring Rawhide and Honey When Watching Wilder Whip the Knight
France - 1789! The king is befuddled. The queen is aroused. The duke hatches a new plan. The peasants are near revolt. And just when it looks like things are normal, here come the Corsican brothers! Or is it really them? Perhaps they are actually filthy peasant swine. Perhaps, when two sets of twins were mismatched at birth, things took a really strange turn in Europe's history. When things can't seem to get much stranger, who else would show up but 'The Man in the Iron Mask?' And just who the hell is Orson Welles supposed to be in this picture, anyway? (Oh, wait, he calls himself Orson Welles...I see, aha!).
I've long thought this to be the perfect period comedy and wondered why it didn't have universal appeal. Perhaps it's difficult for many viewers to fully embrace an old style costumed spectacle as debacle - events taking place about 200 years ago have the smell of a historical lesson and moviegoers tend to avoid classes when picking out a film. But what if a film throws out much of what we think as historical in favor of a hysterical plot playing on the age-old tensions between the poor and the rich? (the peasantry & the aristocracy). Most of the actors here are usually winking slyly during their performances - they're not really immersing themselves in the period. The exception may be Spinetti as the villainous d'Escargot; he does seem a product of his time while everyone else concentrates on making the gags and clever dialogue as rich and enjoyable as possible. But even this works in the film's favor: the villain is played kind of straight (if you don't count his very odd attempts at metaphor), stuffy and consumed by his plots and intrigue, as the others sort of roll their eyes at the absurd turns in the story.
But why is this perfection? The reason has to be Gene Wilder. Wilder had many great comedic roles in his career but this is my personal favorite. He plays two characters in this one (as does Sutherland, almost as great), an arrogant 'aristo' and a sneaky but timid peasant. Wilder's Philippe de Sisi, the high bred one, has to be seen to be believed. Born a peasant but raised as 'superior,' Philippe is prone to wild mood swings and berserk rages. He's quite insane and Wilder turns him into the craziest, most spellbinding character ever committed to celluloid. Very early in the film, the audience begins to wonder what nutty monologue or wacky stunt the unpredictable Philippe will pull in the next scene. It's probably this performance that made Mel Brooks realize Wilder would be the ideal lead actor for all his films ("Young Frankenstein," etc.).
The rest of the cast in this revolutionary comedy are top notch, as well. Sutherland, as mentioned, is terrific - his two characters were both meant to be nobility - he has that aristocratic air down pat. All the others also understood the sly, sometimes subtle farcical elements of this piece. Many of the confrontational scenes, with the eccentric turns of phrase, are instant classics - it's a shame not more film viewers are aware of them. The sets and costumes are great - much of this takes place in the palace of King Louis and everything looks quite authentic. I also don't have any problems with the ending as some others do. It just delivers on the already fantastic absurdity we've come to realize the entire film is embedded with.
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