Babies switched at birth. One is low born, the other high—it’s a classic storytelling trope. The 1970 film Start the Revolution Without Me takes that formula, doubles it, and then turns the farce meter up to 11. It has to be one of the silliest movies ever made, which I consider a compliment.
Starring Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland in dual roles as two sets of twins born in mid 18th century France, one pair of brothers is from a peasant family, the other from an aristocratic one. Due to a wacky mix up by the doctor when he delivers both pairs at the same time and gets confused about which set belongs to which parent, the identical twins are split up and swapped to become faux fraternal twins. “That way we’re at least half-right,” the doc reasons. It just gets wackier from there.
The two mismatched twins come of age on the verge of the French revolution. In their roles as peasants Wilder and Sutherland play Claude and Charles, and as royal twits they play Philippe and Pierre. Inevitably the four will clash. Wilder especially shines as the gentle Claude and the ruthless Philippe, which enable him to show the full range of his comic abilities. Wilder, as only he can, goes full blast in his role as Philippe, the veins popping in his forehead as he hollers that he will be the new king of France.
“And I will be queen!” the foppish Pierre adds.
The humor in this film is not subtle or politically correct. It’s ever so slightly bawdy, and very much madcap in the Marx Brothers mode. Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen would make sharper historical comedy satires and farces in the decade to come, but Start the Revolution Without Me points the way that those hip, self-referential comedies would follow. Expect lots of heaving bosoms, innuendo, sword fighting, hollering, and madcap hijinx—everything short of a pie fight. Orson Welles even makes an onscreen appearance to introduce and very memorably sum up the story.
Take Two Live hosts Jim Dee and Bob Whiteford will present the screening at 12:30 p.m. on May 25, and will no doubt have good trivia tidbits about the director, supporting cast, and the film’s place in silly cinematic history.