There's no question that Gene Wilder has a big head, but it's not quite big enough to wear all of the hats he attempts to don here as he writes, directs, produces, and stars in this up-and-down satire of moviemaking in the silent era. DeLuise is the crazed head of production at a studio.
He is searching for an actor to rival Rudolph Valentino, then the reigning king of romance. DeLuise, overplaying as usual, has a cordon of yes-men around him and wreaks havoc on their insincerity. His barber is Michael Huddleston, who is soon raised to the level of studio executive when he doesn't
join in agreeing with DeLuise. Wilder is married to Kane and hopes to win the talent search. He gets off the train from the East wearing an all-white outfit and thinking he is the cat's pajamas; then he is chagrined to see that every other man disembarking is dressed in the exact same costume.
Graham is the director in charge of finding the right person for the role, and he teeters on the brink of madness because every single one of the actors is the same as the actor before, including Dimitri as the other major Valentino pretender. Kane truly loves Wilder, but she is infatuated with
Valentino. When she comes to the studio to meet him, Wilder pretends to be the great Italian star by dressing as a sheik and seducing his own wife. Several set pieces fall flat, including Wilder swimming in a sunken living room that is flooded, Wilder working on the assembly line of a bakery owned
by David Huddleston, and one or two others. It's not easy to make a comedy when it is cast with some of the least funny people on-screen. DeLuise adds another manic characterization to a career of overemoting; David Huddleston gets about as many laughs as watching a baby seal being clubbed; and
Wilder, in a vain attempt to emulate Mel Brooks, falls back on his patented yelling rages that have long since palled. A few standouts in comedy include Dimitri, Riley as a smart-alecky studio projectionist, the always-enjoyable Ballantine as Wilder's uncle, and Azzara as a studio contract
actress. Ballantine, who became nationally famous on TV's "McHale's Navy," had another career as a comedy magician in the 1940s and 1950s, when he played major nightclubs and theaters in a brief and hysterical act. His 10-minute act here has more belly laughs in it than this entire movie, which is
an unfocused amalgam of styles and blurred attitudes. Any of the few jokes that work are either smarmy or concern bodily functions, such as the one that features Baskin as an actor whose breath is so foul that it shrinks the film. Good production design from Marsh, who is also credited as
coproducer, and sharp editing from the razor of supervisor Greenbury, another coproducer. This was Wilder's second attempt at being Orson Welles, the premier effort being THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES' SMARTER BROTHER--which he wrote, directed, and starred in--a far better film, perhaps because
he had a producer, Richard A. Roth (who appears in this movie), to oversee his excesses.
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