• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:July 10, 2020

Young Frankenstein: No Escaping Destiny

youngfrankensteinMel Brooks and the cast and crew reportedly had so much fun making this classic comedy that the director decided to add a few sequences just to keep the production going a bit longer. Watching the final results, I can understand why. This is one of the funniest movies ever made and it is also Gene Wilder’s personal favorite. Not only in the same vein as Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974), it was also most likely inspired by Roman Polanski’s wonderful The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).

The film is a spoof of the old Frankenstein pictures by James Whale, and even uses the same lab equipment as a way of recreating the atmosphere of an era that is long gone. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld has done a beautiful job of making the film look like those old horror movies; we truly feel like we’re in an old castle (and village) in Transylvania, ingeniously captured in crisp black-and-white.

Changing his surname to “Fronkonsteen”
When we first meet Frederick (Wilder), he’s so desperate to be disassociated from his legendary grandfather, who created a monster out of body parts from corpses, that he has changed his surname into “Fronkonsteen”. Still, Frederick is also a scientist and when he inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania he sees no other option but to go. Once there, he’s welcomed by Igor (Marty Feldman), a hunchback who did Dr. Frankenstein’s dirty work, Inga (Teri Garr), a Scandinavian bombshell, and Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), the grim and mysterious housekeeper (whenever her name is uttered, the horses start neighing). They’re a strange bunch, but Frederick puts them to great use when he finds his grandfather’s hidden library. It contains all the paperwork behind the groundbreaking, monstrous project and he decides to produce another creature.

Together with Igor, Frederick goes gravedigging and puts together a monster that would make Boris Karloff proud. But Igor makes the classic mistake of stealing the wrong brain, the one that belongs to “Abby Normal”…

Enlivening every sequence
There are so many sequences here that are simply brilliantly structured. I love the whole bit that begins with the Monster (Peter Boyle) awakening and then turns into a hilarious Abbott & Costello routine (“Sedagive?!”). There’s also Gene Hackman’s cameo appearance as the blind hermit in a scene that is a direct spoof of Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The actors’ performances enliven every sequence no matter how slight or plain silly it is. Madeline Kahn is hilarious as Frederick’s prissy fiancĂ©e, Feldman has never been funnier as Igor (this is how he would primarily be remembered) and Boyle got his breakthrough as the giant but friendly Monster. Kenneth Mars is amusing as the robotic, nazistic police inspector and Wilder very engaging as the nephew who can’t help going down the exact same path as his grandfather.

The story is deliberately following Frankenstein (1931), spiced up by hilarious dialogue and a barrage of gags, inspiredly written and set up by Wilder and Brooks. But the filmmakers also take this project seriously. John Morris has written a traditional horror score, but also deftly includes a touching music theme that plays a significant part; after all, the story about Frankenstein’s monster is quite emotional.

I think the outstanding sequence where Frederick and the Monster perform “Puttin’ On the Ritz” is the moment in the film where the genius of Mel Brooks is particularly evident, a truly original blend of music and laughs. This was indeed the crowning achievement of his career.

Young Frankenstein 1974-U.S. 105 min. B/W. Produced by Michael Gruskoff. Directed by Mel Brooks. Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder. Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld. Music: John Morris. Cast: Gene Wilder (Frederick Fronkonsteen), Peter Boyle (The Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman… Kenneth Mars. Cameo: Gene Hackman. 

Trivia: Kahn was allegedly first considered for the part that came to be played by Garr. Later a Broadway musical.

Quote: “Oh! Where are you going?… Oh, you men are all alike! Seven or eight quick ones and then you’re out with the boys to boast and brag! You better keep your mouth shut!! Oh… I think I love him!” (Kahn after sex with the Monster)

Last word: “I was going to make ‘Young Frankenstein’ for Columbia. And on the way out of a meeting, I said, ‘I’m going to do this in black and white.’ Wow. Everything came to a halt. I said, ‘The comedy won’t work if it’s in color. It’ll be silly.’ And they said, ‘Peru just got color.’ I’ll never forget that. Laddie [Alan Ladd Jr.] had just taken over Fox a week before, so we got [the script] to him. Next day we were a Fox picture.” (Brooks, DGA)



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