I used to think Gene Wilder was amusing, even funny. I liked the hysterical persona he used to catapult to fame in The Producers (1968). Then he rode the Mel Brooks wave through Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). He used a similar persona in the American Film Theatre production of Rhinoceros (1974), which also starred Zero Mostel, but the two couldn’t capture the chemistry of The Producers.
Wilder embarked on his own to make The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975). He wrote, directed and starred in the film. I found the film on Channel 278, CHARGE!, rapidly becoming my favorite channel for movies. I had not remembered watching it but expected good things with Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn (maybe not Dom DeLuise) in the cast. Unfortunately, Smarter Brother couldn’t escape the shadow of Mel Brooks. Feldman and Kahn recalled the most recent Brooks projects and served as a constant reminder that this film wasn’t not only not as funny as Brooks’ but was decidedly unfunny.
Years ago, I wrote an article “Unwatchable”. I wanted a strict definition of an unwatchable film and one of the most important elements was to have eagerly anticipated great things from the film. Smarter Brother promised something (possibly more in 1975 than now when I have Wilder’s entire career before me) and tried to watch it. The opening segment, with Queen Victoria and her advisor, was short and made little sense, from a comical or humorous angle. Then we get the buildup about Sherlock’s younger brother enormous jealousy, followed by a few more minutes of Holmes and Watson ending up in drag to escape the surveillance of Moriarty. Now I am just waiting for Wilder’s Sigerson Holmes to be introduced. He has a scene with Feldman, all bug-eyed, and then Madeline Kahn appears as a prospective client who can’t tell the truth.
I am barely holding on and then the three burst into dance (hopping) and song, followed by a scene with Kahn singing at a theater. After her first song, she sings another. Holmes and Watson are in the audience incognito.
I can’t go on. (I didn’t make it to Dom DeLuise’s entrance into the film.)
I delete the movie from my DVR. Nothing could be more final. There’s a chance it will appear on CHARGE! again. I could try watching again. There’s a chance.
For now, it has found the category: Unwatchable. Maybe not so strongly lodged in my mind as some of the other unwatchables: Paint Your Wagon (1969); Milos Forman’s Hair (1979); Godspell (1975); Carol Reed’s Flap (1970); John Schlesinger’s Honky Tonk Freeway (1981); Roman Polansky’s What? (1972) and not many more. One tries to stay clear of movies that aren’t very good. You could name a dozen or more worse films, but I may have watched them – Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) – or liked them – Lisztomania (1975) and The Fountain (2006) – or never saw them – most Barbra Streisand films and Paul Mazursky-directed films.