In the France of the eighteenth century, the Duke de Sisi (Maxwell Shaw) was hurrying his very pregnant wife to a doctor one night when he encountered a spot of bother: the doctor was already attending to a woman having a baby, the wife of a proud peasant (Graham Stark). The peasant demanded that his wife be seen to first, yet the Duke insisted his wife be seen, and a fight between the two men ensued. No matter, the babies were born, four of them, two sets of twins, but there was a mix up and the nurse didn't know which set of twins belonged to which mother. To solve this issue, the doctor gave each mother one twin of each so at least he'd be half right, and they both grew up oblivious to their brothers' existence...
This historical spoof was possibly the first of the line of parodies made popular by the Airplane team and Mel Brooks, although it's not as well remembered, probably because it hasn't endured in the public consciousness and is more of a cult item nowadays. It also resembles a Bob Hope comedy where Hope would dress up in costume, and there's a reference to the Hope and Bing Crosby Road pictures in there for the sharp eyed viewer. Written by Fred Freeman and Lawrence J. Cohen, it wasn't the first film to make fun of the French Revolution (there's always Carry On Don't Lose Your Head, after all), but it was among the most good natured, and the cast certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Perhaps enjoying themselves a little too much, as a lot of the humour comes across as self-indulgent overacting. When the brothers grow up, they are played by Gene Wilder (the biggest over-actor) and Donald Sutherland (who affects a funny voice for half of the time). There are the peasants Claude (Wilder) and Charles (Sutherland), who are being reluctantly mixed up with the brewing revolution (which happened in 1789, as the title cards constantly tell us), and on the other side of the divide there are the Corsican aristocrats Philippe (Wilder) and Pierre (Sutherland), two cruel and possibly insane men who happen to be among the best swordfighters of their generation. Inevitably, these four will swap places at some point during the story and it is from there whence the humour arises.
And while there are funny moments, and the pace is suitably frenetic, you keep waiting for the big laughs which never really arrive. Claude and Charles, who are the heroes for taking no side in the upcoming conflict (almost everyone, rich or poor, acts the fool at some point), are set up to provide a diversion so that their leader, Jacques (Jack MacGowran) can send his men to steal weaponry. It just so happens that Pierre and Philippe are on a nearby boat disguised as peasants to reach the palace of King Louis (a doddery Hugh Griffith) and in the ensuing melée the brothers are mixed up, with Claude and Charles headed for the palace and Philippe and Pierre spirited away by the revolutionaries, and sent to the lunatic asylum when they claim to be the Corsican brothers.
If nothing else, Start the Revolution Without Me is a handsome looking film, with lavish costumes and well-chosen locations. There are a few good, silly lines - Philippe: "One day I shall be King!" Pierre: "And I shall be Queen!", or "As they say in Corsica, 'Goodbye!'" - and the mostly British cast are excellent, including a nymphomaniac Marie Antoinette played by Billie Whitelaw and a scheming aristo called d'Escargot played by Victor Spinetti. Ewa Aulin, better known from Candy, shows up as a Belgian princess Charles is supposed to marry, and there's a nice ballroom scene where everyone is passing around notes ("Kill de Sisi", "Kill the King", "Hello Handsome!"). Sadly there's too much reliance on running around to diminishing effect, and the cheat ending looks as if they ran out of ideas. Also with: Orson Welles, who helpfully informs us he isn't in the film. Music by John Addison.