It takes the tumultuous "let-them-eat-cake" days of the French Revolution and gives everyone a pie in the face!
A cult classic that has grown in stature since its failure in 1970, Start the Revolution Without Me is at long last on DVD.
Facts of the Case
In a small cottage in the French countryside, two pairs of twins are born; one to a peasant family and one to an aristocratic family. Unfortunately for them, the midwife becomes confused amid the chaos and gives one baby from each pair to the prospective parents.
We then jump to 1789 before the start of the French Revolution. The mismatched twins are now adults; each set has one Gene Wilder and one Donald Sutherland. Through a series of mishaps, the two sets meet and chaos ensues.
According to producer/director Bud Yorkin, Warner Bros. did not have much faith in Start the Revolution Without Me. They booked the film in few theaters and gave it little publicity. Whatever potential audience there was took the title to heart and stayed away. Only through 16mm college campus rentals and the initial 1982 video release did the cult for Start the Revolution Without Me start to grow.
Why was it ignored in 1970? I like to think that it was simply ahead of its time. The gag-soaked madcap comedies had yet to make an impact at the box office (Blazing Saddles was still four years away) and this was a time when successful box office comedies were of the more sardonic variety (M*A*S*H). The historical context didn't help either. With the exception of Tom Jones, few historical comedies did well at the box office.
To dispel all those who equate flop with terrible, let me say that Start the Revolution Without Me is one of the funniest comedies ever made. The screenplay by Fred Freeman and Lawrence J. Cohen is crackling with witty dialogue and laugh out loud gags. They even manage to avoid the classic pitfall of comedy screenwriting—that the plot should serve nothing more as a clothesline to hang the gags upon—scripting a coherent and very clever storyline to augment the gags. Bud Yorkin has been criticized for his workmanlike approach to directing, but that approach is nowhere in evidence here. His sense of pacing, timing, and payoff is razor sharp.
The performances are wonderful. Coming off an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (for The Producers), Gene Wilder proves he was the best comic actor of the 1970s. He doesn't repeat his work as Bloom here; his Claude and Phillippe are complete originals. Anyone who wants to become a comic actor should study the seduction scene with Ewa Aulin and Wilder. Donald Sutherland is primarily known as a serious actor, but in his dual role of Charles and Pierre, he proves he is just as adept at comedy. Of the supporting cast, the most notable is Hugh Griffith as the dimwitted King Louis. Griffith made a specialty of comic relief roles in serious epics (he won an Oscar for Ben-Hur) and here he relishes the opportunity to lampoon his usual work.
Warner Bros. has released Start the Revolution About Me in a surprisingly good edition, perhaps to atone for their past mistakes. First, they present the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Since the film didn't get much of a workout in theaters, the image looks very, very good. There are some scratches and specks and a little grain during night scenes, but overall, this is a fine transfer.
If we are rewarded with a good video transfer, we are punished with the sound mix. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, there are several imperfections. Tape hiss is often heard and in some scenes, foreign sounds bleed into the soundtrack. The score comes across crisp and clear but some dialogue could have been clearer. A mixed bag.
There are some extras, which surprised me, considering this was not a hit. There are some decent production notes and a theatrical trailer that's in good shape. The real gem is the commentary track featuring Gene Wilder, Bud Yorkin, and Donald Sutherland. All participants' comments were recorded separately and edited together into one track. Sutherland's comments are few and far between. Yorkin's comments are mostly technical, talking about the production of the film. He has a lot of good information and I was grateful to hear them. But the star of the track is Gene Wilder. His comments deal mostly with how he became attached to the project and his personal experiences during the production. He comes across as friendly, intelligent, and a fun guest. Some of his remarks are gems ("I'm going to be your pal for an hour and a half"; "So here we are watching the DVD and what did it cost you? A couple of bucks?"). Most recommended to fans of the film.
With most stores stocking Start the Revolution Without Me for $14.99 and under, I recommend purchasing this gem. If you're still not convinced, rent it first. You'll be a fan before you know it.
Free to go, but a slap on the wrist to Warner Bros for not producing a better sound mix.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary track with Gene Wilder, Bud Yorkin, and Donald Sutherland
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