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Wilder 'bout Fellini,
This review is from: World's Greatest Lover [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Coming out at the same time as Ken Russell's rather more amusing Valentino, The World's Greatest Lover suffers from Gene Wilder's sporadic tendency to mistake the grotesque for the side-splitting. Thus we get the odd huge close-up of mouths covered in shaving foam and a lot of tiresome hysteria and tongues. We also get far more of Dom DeLuise mugging away as if semaphore were back in fashion than is strictly necessary, though he's not as OTT here as in Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, for which we can at least be grateful. Unfortunately, we get much more of Wilder's tendency to mistake hysteria for the hysterical - when in doubt, shout seems to be his motto - with Wilder adding a nervous tic that sees him stick out his tongue when he gets nervous. And he gets nervous a lot. Be still my aching ribs...
It's a reworking of Fellini's near career killing early flop The White Sheik, even including a Felliniesque lineup of hookers at a bus stop in one scene, only without Fellini's restraint (yes, you did read that right), with Wilder's unemployed baker heading for Hollywood to enter a screen test to find the next Valentino while his young wife seeks out the real thing. Wilder does acknowledge the debt in a screen credit that's part thank you to `my friend', but seems more name-dropping in a film that comes across as something of a vanity project - certainly with Wilder starring, writing, directing, producing and even writing a song for the film, it's fair to say where the buck stops on this one. One of those films that at once offers fairly lavish period production design but often a complete lack of understanding of silent cinema - yes, we do get sped-up comedy scenes - it's definitely pre-Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood, which completely destroyed most of the then-common myths about silent cinema that this embraces. Indeed, anachronisms abound, with the feel (and the songs) often more Thirties than Twenties, which perhaps wouldn't matter quite so much if it were all funnier. It's not a total disaster - there's the odd good line (a conductor announcing "Hollywood, home of the stars and several featured players"), a nicely natural performance from Carol Kane before she became a mess of mannerisms to rival Wilder and it does offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see James Hong playing a Norwegian (or is it Svedish?) studio executive, complete with excellent accent. (Also to be glimpsed among the bit parts in the supporting cast are Danny De Vito as an assistant director, Billy Sands - Paparelli in Sergeant Bilko - as a studio guard and, as the boss of a bakery, David Huddleston, here billed as `Michael Huddleston's Father'!)
Fox's Region 1 DVD offers a decent 1.85:1 widescreen transfer as well as a fullscreen version, with optional original mono or remastered stereo mixes. Aside from the theatrical trailer and trailers for three other Wilder films (Young Frankenstein, Sherlock Holnes' Smarter Brother and Silver Streak) the only extra is an audio commentary by Wilder (not included on the Region 2 PAL version) that is so sparing and uninformative that you'll wonder if you clicked the wrong button on your menu!