I’ve enjoyed a lot of Gene Wilder movies over the years, and like a lot of people, when he died I decided to pay tribute with a mini movie marathon. But rather than revisit the beloved classics, I decided to dig a little deeper into his repertoire and watch some lesser known movies. The ones I chose were “Rhinoceros,” “The Worlds’s Greatest Lover,” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.”
“World’s Greatest Lover” was both written, and directed, by Gene Wilder. I’d never actually heard of this movie before digging into his IMDb, and probably for a reason. WGL is a deeply flawed film, although it does have some truly funny moments. It co-stars a very young Carol Kane as the wife of Wilder’s neurotic and fame obsessed character. The two travel to Hollywood so that he can participate in a search to find “The World’s Greatest Lover,” who will star in a new film from a studio trying to compete with Rudolph Valentino ’s reign as the king of romance. The movie studio head is played by a typically manic Dom Deloise, who has a few good moments, but is basically just playing himself. The movie comes across as more farce than comedy, although that’s clearly not the plan. If you’re a huge Wilder fan you might enjoy it, just for being able to see Wilder doing his thing, but I have a hard time recommending the movie.
The next film on my list is “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” that co-stars a young Madeline Khan as the femme fatale to Wilder’s quirky detective, and Marty Feldman as his whacky assistant. Unlike WGL, this movie knows exactly what it is trying to be and is downright hilarious, thanks to Wilder doing his best slapstick, bar none, impromptu song and dance numbers, and a comically fraught sexual tension between Wilder and a pathologically lying Khan that delivers laughs scene after scene. This is an incredibly fun film that should really have a bigger part in Wilder’s legacy.
The final film in my mini-marathon is “Rhinocerous,” an adaptation of a play by absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco. Wilder plays an alcoholic accountant, caught in an epidemic that is transforming people into, yes, rhinoceroses. It co-stars Wilder’s “The Producers” co-star Zero Mostel and Karen Black. The film feels very much like a play, complete with monologues and dialog heavy scenes. But the absurdist humor that made the play so much fun is delivered flawlessly by Wilder and Mostel. In fact, watching the two play off of each other makes me wish we had seen more of the two of them on screen together. The movie has a terrible, horrible, musical score, but is otherwise a delightful, fun, film that gives Wilder a fantastic forum for playing both frenetic and mellow in the same role. It’s no “Young Frankenstein,” or even a “Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” but for the Wilder fan, a great movie you probably haven’t seen.