I am a big fan of Gene Wilder, and of ‘70s films in general, so this is a film I have wanted to see for a long time—unfortunately it is rather hard to find.
Start the Revolution Without Me is a very loose parody of the Alexander Dumas novel The Corsican Brothers, about twins who live wildly different lives is pre-Revolution France. I say it is a loose adaptation because the film includes two sets of twins, both delivered on the same day by the same village doctor, one set born to the powerful and arrogant Count de Sisi, and the other set to a humble peasant. The babies are mismatched and group up to peasants Claude and Charles (Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland), and two brothers raised in luxury, Philippe and Pierre (Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland). Their paths cross in circumstances leading up the French Revolution.
The film is also a satire of historical films in general, with Orson Welles giving a deadpan delivery of overdone narration:
Paris, France, 1789. Longstanding grievances between aristocrat and peasant were about to boil over. The pot in which these troubles boiled was kindled with the firewood of oppression and injustice and heated by the flames that sucked the air from gasping peasants. Would the pot cool off, would it merely simmer, or would it boil over in the kitchen of France– to stain the floor of history forever?
There are also plenty of silly French names, including Mimi Montage and Duke d’Escargot. The funniest lines do not go to the two male leads in their four roles, but to Escargot (Victor Spinetti), whose every line is a confused metaphor: “The brains of a chicken coupled with the claws of two evils may well hatch the eggs of our destruction.” And: “l’m delighted to see you all stuffing yourselves while France has cramps from the tyranny of its own indigestion.”
We are used to seeing Wilder and Southerland as sensitive, occasionally funny, middle aged men in films they appeared in later. They are both in their mid-30s here, and full of vitality and athleticism as they parody classic swashbuckling films.