Sunday, May 6, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 8 - THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER (1977)

- Rated PG but would mostly likely be PG-13 today for suggestive sexual material and some frank language.
- Starring Gene Wilder, Carol Kane, Dom DeLuise, Danny DeVito, James Hong
- Written and Directed by Gene Wilder
- Running time: 1hr 29min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

One can easily forget just how huge Gene Wilder was in the 70's.  His Willy Wonka is iconic, his Waco Kid is him at his laid back best, and in Young Frankenstein he gave one of the best comic performances of all time.  Then, he became even more popular by teaming with Richard Pryor in SILVER STREAK, STIR CRAZY, SEE NO EVIL HEAR NO EVIL, and ANOTHER YOU (which wasn't popular all, but oh well).  I actually didn't care for his pairings with Pryor, as I think they're overrated and mildly amusing at best.  I prefer Wilder when he's screaming and acting like a moron. After his stint with Mel Brooks, he decided to write and direct some of his own comedies.  His first attempt was THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER.  It's not bad, but the film was uneven and had at least as many jokes that didn't work as the ones that did.  But Marty Feldman was pretty awesome in it, as per usual.

The WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER was Wilder's sophomore effort.  Taking place in the 20's, he plays an average schlub named Rudy Valentine who is recently wed to frigid beauty Annie (played by an "always surprised by how hot she was in the 70's" Carol Kane).  He sees an ad for an open audition for the next Rudolph Valentino.  He packs everything he has, and brings his wife to Hollywood.  Once he arrives, he pretends to be well known and gets the royal suite in a fancy hotel.  But because Annie is unsatisfied sexually, she seeks out the real Rudolph Valentino.  The rest of the movie is a series of gags and sketches that involves Rudy switching places with Valentino, and him accidentally having a great audition.

This film came out at a time when Hollywood was releasing several films that paid homage to the old Hollywood, like MOVIE MOVIE, NICKELODEON, AT LONG LAST LOVE, WC FIELDS AND ME, and GABLE & LOMBARD.  This was definitely the more broader of the bunch in terms of comedy.  The movie opens with a very Mel Brooks-type scene with a big time producer (played by Dom DeLuise) as he comes up with the idea of having open auditions for a Valentino of their own, since he's at a rival studio.  It's a hilarious scene as the eccentric DeLuise shouts and physically attacks his "yes" men when they don't tell him what he wants to hear.  Then we are treated to a delightful title sequence that has Wilder (made to look Valentino-like) in an old fashioned Flamenco number, than employs some subtle sight gags.  It was a nice way to set the tone for this wacky comedy.

If seeing Gene Wilder shout at the top of his lungs for 90 minutes doesn't sound hilarious to you. or if Dom DeLuise losing his shit won't make you lose your shit, then you might want to sit this one out.  I laughed quite a bit in this flick.  There are some terrific slapstick moments that are old fashioned, but then there is some sexual and homophobic-type humor that cracked me up too.  At first, it seemed like that humor might not fit in this type of movie, but considering where Wilder got his mentoring from (Mel Brooks) it makes perfect sense (as Brooks incorporated that type of humor in SILENT MOVIE).  Most of the gags worked for me.  Wilder sticking his tongue out when he's nervous, everyone slapping the shit out of/and or falling over each other, but when Wilder's hotel room floods and dumps on the restaurant below him, I thought I was going to pee myself. 

Wilder is great in this.  I love his screaming and his wide-eyed comic stare.  DeLuise is a riot as a jerk producer who freaks out all the time.  Carol Kane is adorable.  And Wilder has surrounded himself with some very funny supporting characters like the amazing Fritz Feld (big fan of his silly sounds) and Ronny Graham (the priest from SPACEBALLS).  Even Danny DeVito has a small role.  Wilder's visual style is simple but it works.  He lets most of the comedy play out in master shots, which is very close to Mel Brooks' visual style.  The script has several genuinely funny moments.  However, I do think the energy dwindles a bit in the last third.  It's still pleasant, just not hilarious.  But it kind of fits where the story goes, which ends up being more of a sweet romance than a satire on Hollywood.

This is juvenile, even childish comedy.  And in a generation that's filled with cynical, ultra-raunchy, dark comedies, this was refreshing to me.  There's a certain innocence in this kind of immature humor that I miss from the movies.  They really don't make them like this anymore, and that's too bad.  If you're big fan of Mel Brooks, give this one a shot.  It's not nearly as good as his classics, but with his second turn in the director's chair, Wilder has shown us that he's a decent substitute.

*** (out of ****)

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