The World’s Greatest Lover

THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVER tickled the tail end of 1977 in this amiable, daffy, scattershot comedy that stars Gene Wilder, who also wrote, directed and produced the lark. He even composed a period song for it, “Ain’t It Kinda Wonderful”, sung by Harry Nilsson. Though grouchy critics didn’t find the sum total to be ‘kinda wonderful’, Wilder’s $4,800,000 spoof of silent era moviemaking and star worship collected audience approval totaling $26,800,000, #31 for the year. *

Are you trying to give me fart hailure?”

Milwaukee baker ‘Rudy Hickman’ (Wilder) has a slew of neurotic behaviors that emerge when he’s tense—sticking his tongue out, garbling words and—as his wife ‘Annie’ (Carol Kane) hesitantly puts it—“that other thing“. Still, desperation and chutzpah propel him to a seductive California hamlet where neuroses bloom into deities: Hollywood. Easily riled ‘Adolph Zitz’ (Dom DeLuise), czar of ‘Rainbow Studios’, is searching for a new face to compete with matinee idol Rudolph Valentino. Weary of kneading bread, Rudy sees glitter in the Golden State. The flustered Annie is gaga for the dashing cinema hero.

Zany slapstick sendup has an equal share of hits and misses: some bits draw hearty laughs, others fizzle. As a producer, Wilder steered a nice 1920’s period look; in writing and directing  he too often overplays a gag and pushes frantic noise up the decibel level, not just with his own patented, generally amusing shtick but with vociferous supporting players like DeLuise and old pro Fritz Feld. Sweet and beguiling Kane is in choice form. In sum, more affectionate than endearing, but so unabashedly goofy it’s hard to dislike. Brief, at 89 minutes, though it wears itself out sooner than that.

Acting silly: Mark Silberman, Carl Ballantine, Candice Azzara (funny), Ronny Graham (not funny), Danny DeVito, David Huddleston, James Hong, Jorge Moreno, Billy Sands, Poncie Ponce.

* Coincidentally, ’77 provided Ken Russell’s Valentino, a serious take on the object of s million sighs, also featuring Carol Kane in a supporting role. Wilder’s romp was the year’s 11th most seen comedy, following—in $$$ order—Smokey And The Bandit, The Goodbye Girl, Semi-Tough, Oh God!, Annie Hall, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, Fun With Dick And Jane, Slap Shot, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Gene’s pal Mel Brooks’ thriller spoof High Anxiety.

Hooray for Candice Azzara!

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