The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (Kino Lorber)

None other than Gene Wilder could have conceived or performed such a zany and contradictory character.

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The title is ironic and true. Sigerson Holmes holds a certain kind of snappy, off-the-cuff intelligence that runs against the classy Sherlock’s verbose intelligence. Sigerson has an inferiority complex due to constantly toiling in the shadow of his world-famous older brother, and his smarts fly in your face with a hint of aggression and self-consciousness. His blunders are easy to avoid and ensure he constantly has egg on his face. None other than Gene Wilder could have conceived or performed such a zany and contradictory character.

Written around the same time as some of the best Wilder-Brooks collaborations, Holmes’ Smarter Brother was actually conceived as Young Frankenstein was wrapping up. I read a story in which Mel Brooks warned Wilder that since he had a passion for storytelling, he’d have to become a director as well in order to protect his scripts. Brooks knew what he was talking about. His first script was heavily bastardized. Being given directorial control of The Producers allowed him to have a career. This is where Wilder’s story departs from Brooks’ because Brooks would go on to have a string of recognizable hits up until the ‘90s. Many people today aren’t even aware Wilder was a director.

The plot has the combined charm of an absurdist parody and an adventure serial. Sigerson is joined by a member of the Scotland Yard—played by Marty Feldman (Igor from Young Frankenstein)—who has what you might call an “audiographic” memory. He can’t recall images perfectly, but he can repeat every conversation he’s ever heard verbatim, as if from a tape recorder. It takes a good smack in the head for him to be able to do this. They are hired by a compulsive liar and promiscuous music hall singer (Madeline Kahn, sillier and sexier than ever) to retrieve a stolen government document she was forced to give up in order not to be blackmailed for her lustful exploits. The blackmailer? Flamboyant and less-than-talented opera singer Eduardo Gambetti (Dom DeLuise). Meanwhile, the evil Professor Moriarty (Leo McKern) is hot on their trail with a cabinet full of assassins and ne’er-do-wells.

While not a gut buster, Holmes’ Smarter Brother can’t help but entertain with rousing and sudden musical numbers, unexpected shouting of expletives, and snappy dialogue that is so complex and layered that it makes even the audience run out of breath. Wilder goes on maniacal tirades as if it were a lost and fine art. Where there aren’t laughs, there’s creativity only he can deliver.

Aside from the expected feats in wit, wordplay, and visual gags, there’s also some impressive fight choreography in this one. A gifted fencer, Sigerson crosses swords with henchmen, villains and sword-practice automatons of his own creation. Another attribute of the film is the rich set design. Wilder would go on to use the same production designer (Terrence Marsh, who also worked with Mel Brooks on Spaceballs and later with Frank Darabont on The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) in his later films, such as Haunted Honeymoon, where equally impressive set design is done.

The obvious winner between Haunted Honeymoon and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother would go to the latter. This is one of those films that, despite being a bit cluttered and perhaps too idiosyncratic, is wholly original and displays some of Wilder’s greatest sensibilities. | Nic Champion

Kino Lorber has included original trailers with this Blu-ray release, as well as a commentary on the film by Wilder himself—yet another reason to pick this one up if you’re revisiting the actor’s work.

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