Start the Revolution Without Me (Bud Yorkin / U.S., 1970):

"Liberty, equality, frat... I don't find that amusing." France in 1789 has blue-blood venality on one side and plebeian imbecility on the other, it all hinges on two sets of twins in a slaphappy free-for-all constructed out of Dumas and Dickens. Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland are the contrasting frères switched at birth, psychotically haughty in the palace and frenetically chicken-hearted in the barricades. (Galloping across his manor with a stuffed falcon ludicrously tied to his wrist, the aristocratic Wilder conducts a crescendo of paranoid wrath like an apoplectic aria.) Billie Whitelaw as Marie Antoinette wields a perpetual leer of mocking arousal, Victor Spinetti's Count d'Escargot radiates perfumed oiliness and overextended metaphors ("To pull the tail of a lion is to open the mouth of trouble and reveal the teeth of vengeance biting the tongue of deceit"). Stumbling through a gala ball in a gold-plated rooster costume, meanwhile, Hugh Griffith's Louis XVI is as touchingly addled as Pierre Renoir's in La Marseillaise. "As they say in Corsica—goodbyeee!" The fall of the Ancien Régime according to Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear, their goony slapstick staged in the midst of legitimate Versailles opulence and narrated by Orson Welles to boot ("a color film... which I am not in"), quite the hellzapoppin'. The Hope of Monsieur Beaucaire is a presiding figure (the patty-cake routine from the Road movies also makes a cameo), Yorkin galumphs through a crisscross of crumpled conspiracy notes but knows enough to slow down for a moonlit Ewa Aulin in a translucent nightgown. Lester and Brooks run with the template, the "glittering new page of history" is interrupted à la Gilliam to give the Man in the Iron Mask the last word. With Jack MacGowran, Helen Fraser, Rosalind Knight, and Murray Melvin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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