Thursday, April 20, 2017

#2,341. The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) - Sherlock Holmes in the 1970s

Directed By: Gene Wilder

Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman

Line from the film: "Is this rotten or wonderfully brave?"

Trivia: Apparently, Gene Wilder asked Mel Brooks to direct this picture. Brooks declined, stating that he would find it difficult to direct a screenplay that wasn't his own

Fresh off of Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder wrote and directed The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, a 1975 comedy that co-starred a trio of Mel Brooks regulars (Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, and Dom DeLuise). Brooks himself even lent his voice to the production (he uttered one line, spoken off-screen, when a minor character walked through the wrong door). 

Unfortunately, the “Brooks Touch” could only take this film so far. Intended as a spoof of a classic Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is funny in spurts, but doesn’t match the sustained hilarity of such Mel Brooks classics as Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, making it a hit and miss affair.

A secret document that Queen Victoria (Susan Field) herself entrusted to British Foreign Minister Redcliff (John Le Mesurier) has been stolen. Instead of tackling this case himself, renowned sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Douglas Wilmer) passes it on to his arrogant yet highly intelligent younger brother Sigerson (Wilder), who he hasn't spoken to in years. 

To assist Sigerson during his investigation, Sherlock hires Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker (Feldman), a Scotland Yard detective with a photographic sense of hearing. Together Sacker and Sigerson begin searching for clues, knowing full well that if the document falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge England into a costly war.

Sigerson’s first break in the case comes when actress Jenny Hill (Kahn) pays him a visit. Though she’s clearly a pathological liar, the younger Holmes gathers enough information from Ms. Hill to discover that the document is currently in the hands of Opera singer Eduardo Gambetti (Dom DeLuise), who intends to sell it to none other than Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis Dr. Moriarty (Leo McKern)! 

Though he cannot trust her, Sigerson eventually falls in love with Ms. Hill, and vows to protect her to the end. But how does she really figure into this bizarre case? And can Sigerson and Sacker retrieve the document before Moriarty turns it over to a foreign power?

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother does feature a handful of very funny moments, including Sigerson’s first meeting with Jenny Hill (A gifted comedienne, Madeline Kahn is especially good throughout this movie) as well as  Moriarty’s initial attempt to buy the document from Gambetti (DeLuise is so deliciously over-the-top that you can’t help but chuckle at his antics). There’s also a horse-drawn carriage chase that has a great payoff, but it's the big opera scene towards the end that is undoubtedly the film’s most uproarious sequence (Gambetti has translated an Italian opera into English, putting his own unique spin on the story, and the result is positively hilarious).

Alas, with a straightforward approach to the central mystery - which is never as well-defined as it should be - The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother ultimately doesn’t work as a spoof. Even more disappointing is the fact that, aside from a clever bit at the beginning, Sherlock Holmes and his illustrious sidekick Dr. Watson (Thorley Walters) are hardly in the movie at all. And while there are laughs to be had, plenty of jokes and sight gags fall flat; a ballroom dance scene late in the film, set moments after Sigerson and Sacker have escaped a deadly trap, drags on far too long to be fully effective.

I hate to dismiss the film completely, in part because I remember loving it as a kid (I recorded a sanitized version off of network TV in the ‘80s, so this is actually the first time I’ve seen the movie in its unedited form), but if it’s laughs you’re after, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is only fitfully successful at delivering them.

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