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 utters one line, spoken off-screen, when a character walks through a wrong door).
Unfortunately, the “Brooks Touch” could only take this film so far; intended as a spoof of a classic mystery, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is funny in parts, but doesn’t match the sustained hilarity of Mel Brooks’ best work, making it a hit and miss affair (with more misses than hits).
A secret document that Queen Victoria (Susan Field) entrusted to the British Foreign Minister, Redcliff (John Le Mesurier), has been stolen. Instead of tackling the theft himself, renowned detective Sherlock Holmes (Douglas Wilmer) passes the case to his younger brother Sigerson (Wilder), who he hasn’t seen in years. To assist his brother, Sherlock hires Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker (Feldman), a Scotland Yard detective with a photographic sense of hearing, and together Sacker and Sigerson begin looking for clues, knowing full well that if the document falls into the wrong hands, it will 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)! Despite the fact he cannot trust her, Sigerson soon falls in love with Ms. Hill, and is determined to protect her at all costs. But how does she figure into this bizarre case? Further still, can Sigerson and Sgt. Sacker retrieve the document before Moriarty turns it over to a foreign power?
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother does have some very funny moments, including Sigerson’s first meeting with Jenny Hill (Madeline Kahn, always a gifted comedienne, is especially good throughout the 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 laugh at his antics). In addition, there’s a horse-drawn carriage chase that has a great payoff, but it’s the big opera scene towards the end that is the film’s most uproarious sequence (Gambetti translated an Italian opera into English, putting his own unique spin on the story, and the result is positively hilarious).
But with its straightforward approach to its central mystery (which is never as well-defined as it should be), The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother doesn’t really work as a spoof (aside from a clever bit at the beginning, Sherlock Holmes and his illustrious sidekick Dr. Watson, played by Thorley Walters, are hardly in the movie at all), and many of the jokes fall flat (a ballroom dance scene late in the film, set moments after Sigerson and Sacker have escaped a deadly trap, drags on a bit 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.