#184) Young Frankenstein (1974)

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#184) Young Frankenstein (1974)

OR “Downton Abby Normal”

Directed by Mel Brooks

Written by Brooks & Gene Wilder. Based on characters from the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

Class of 2003

The Plot: Dr. Frederick Fron-ken-steen (Gene Wilder) is a straight-laced physicist who detests being the grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein. Upon inheriting the family castle in Transylvania, Frederick travels to the estate, discovers his grandfather’s secret notations on reanimating dead tissue, and becomes increasingly enticed by the idea. Assisted by bug-eyed Igor (Marty Feldman), seductive Inga (Teri Garr), and ominous Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), Frederick makes a creature (Peter Boyle) that is part monster and part “man about town”. Only his uptight financier Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) and an angry mob of townspeople can prevent Frederick from fulfilling his destiny.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “stylish spoof” with “[c]lever writing” and “a formidable comedic ensemble”. They also praise the crew for its meticulous recreation of the 1930s Frankenstein films. In addition, there’s an essay by Brooks expert and “Tootsie” devotee Brian Scott Mednick.

But Does It Really?: “Young Frankenstein” is not only one of the funniest films ever, but also a frontrunner for best parody ever. While “Airplane!” is the spoof that throws in everything but the kitchen sink, “Young Frankenstein” gets its laughs by faithfully emulating the source material, and tweaking it in just the right places. While not my pick for Mel’s funniest film, it’s definitely his best. Brooks and Wilder make for excellent collaborators: Brooks adheres to Wilder’s more restrained style of parody, and Wilder allows Brooks to occasionally punch up the humor with his sketch-comedy sensibilities. Throw in an ensemble that’s clearly having a blast, and the result is damn near perfect. Mel made a name for himself as the king of parodies after this (I will always have a soft-spot for “Spaceballs”), but “Young Frankenstein” is his last true classic.

Shout Outs: In addition to the main influences from “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein”, the film makes excellent use of “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” from “Naughty Marietta”.

Everybody Gets One: Marty Feldman was already a popular comedian in his native England, but it was his performance as “I-gor” that brought him international fame. Feldman would continue to be a staple in subsequent films by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Young Frankenstein” garnered two Oscar nominations: Adapted Screenplay for Brooks and Wilder (losing to “The Godfather Part II”) and Sound (losing to “Earthquake”). How Gene Wilder didn’t get an acting nomination from ANY voting body that awards season is an everlasting disgrace.

Other notes

  • Just a reminder that this film was released a mere 10 months after “Blazing Saddles”. It may be the finest one-two punch in film history.
  • This film really takes its time setting the mood; it’s a full five minutes before we get the first real joke.
  • It may be “A Mel Brooks Film”, but this is Gene Wilder’s movie. In addition to a screenplay that is noticeably different from Mel’s other movies, this is Gene Wilder’s finest film performance. And that’s saying something.
  • And now, a sensible “Chattanooga Choo Choo” reference for the kids.
  • There’s a lot of artificial zooming going on in this film. Some of it is there to help cover cuts, but it always sticks out to me.
  • Oh Cloris Leachman, when you commit to a part you really commit. Leachman would have filmed this not too long after she departed “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to star in her own spin-off!
  • No, it doesn’t mean “glue”. Moving on.
  • Did Spielberg lift this film’s “You go first” gag for “Raiders”?
  • Shout-out to cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld. It’s a perfect copy of the old Universal films. Where’s his Oscar nod?
  • Why does everyone in Transylvania have an English accent?
  • Excellent physical work by Kenneth Mars. And good work from the sound guys too.
  • This is one of filmdom’s most endearing Frankenstein monsters. And to think he would end up making a living by saying “Holy crap.”
  • Helga’s father is played by actor Michael Fox. Because the Screen Actors Guild does not allow more than one actor to be registered under the same name, the other Michael Fox had to add the J middle initial.
  • Gene Hackman is giving one of the best cameo performances in any film. “I was going to make espresso!”
  • One more word on Gene Wilder’s performance: It’s so good even his hair is brilliant.
  • Four words: Puddin on a reeeeeetz.
  • I love that Mel kept in one of the moments where Gene starts corpsing on camera. Wilder barely gets out the line “Stop that!” to Marty Feldman.
  • You’ll never get me to say anything bad about Madeline Kahn. This viewing made me debate whether she should have gotten her Oscar nomination for this instead of “Blazing Saddles”. These are the things that keep me up at night.
  • That being said, the relationship between Elizabeth and the monster has some moral gray area that I feel might be a bit questionable today.
  • Too many great lines to mention, but here are some of my favorites:

“Give him an extra dollar.”

“There wolf. There castle.”

“What the hell are you doing in the bathroom day and night?”

“You just made a yummy sound.”

“Seda-GIVE!?”

“I suggest you put on a tie.”

“Say nothing, act casual.”

“No tongues.”

Legacy

  • Despite the worldwide success of “Young Frankenstein”, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder never made another film together. Gene tried his hand at directing the similar genre spoof “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother” and Mel followed up with “Silent Movie” and “High Anxiety”, but neither would make another film as well received as “Young Frankenstein”.
  • Following the success of “The Producers” on Broadway, Brooks turned this film into a stage musical in 2007. It ran for a while, but lightning definitely didn’t strike twice. A streamlined version played the West End recently with better results.
  • The dramatic sting used to establish Castle Frankenstein would gain internet notoriety in the “Dramatic Chipmunk” video.
  • I guess there’s a Turkish version of this called “My Friend Frankenstein”?
  • And of course, the “walk this way” gag is not only endlessly referenced in films (especially by Mel), but is also the inspiration for the Aerosmith song.

8 thoughts on “#184) Young Frankenstein (1974)”

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