IMDB #231 Young Frankenstein

Next up, a classic comedy that I haven’t watched all the way through in years, 1974's Young Frankenstein.

The Key Players:

Directed and co-written by Mel Brooks, making his only directorial appearance on the countdown (really, internet? Not even Spaceballs?). A producer, writer, and director of countless farces, Brooks is a comedy staple- sadly I have never seen Blazing Saddles, and I won’t have to watch it for this list.

Gene Wilder co-writes and stars. Best known as Willy Wonka and a couple of movies where he’s totally white next to Richard Pryor, Wilder is totally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which happens to be the best city in the history of people all living near one another in any form.

The cast is rounded out by Teri Garr (mostly known for this film), Peter Boyle (the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond? Huh), and Cloris Leachman (oh, so that’s why she gets “and” credit in movies like Spanglish and qualifies as a “star” of the “Dancing With The” variety. I knew there had to be something beyond tv shows I’ve never heard of from the seventies).

Marty Feldman totally steals every scene he’s in as well, with crack timing and crazy eyes (which were actually a result of Graves disease. Bummer. Still, he made it work for him.)

The Story:

Wilder plays the grandson of the Dr. Frankenstein we’re all familiar with, who has shirked his family’s history by attempting to make his own name in the field of neurology (which he pronounces Frahnk-en-steen). But then word comes that he’s inherited the family estate, so he says goodbye to his stuffy fiancée, and travels to Transylvania to a creepy castle populated by a wise-cracking butler with a suspiciously shifting hump (Feldman), a beautiful assistant (Garr), and a severe governess (or something?) whose name frightens horses (Leachman).

Soon he becomes obsessed with continuing his grandfather’s work, much to the distress of the townsfolk, who are led by a keystone kop with a fake arm and a funny accent. Much hilarity ensues.

The Artisticness:

Man, oh man, what ever happened to parodies? If ever there was a pinnacle of a loving homage to a genre, Young Frankenstein is the obvious forerunner. Nowadays, in this country at least, we’re reduced a flood of lazy mishmashes of terrible “references are the new jokes” type of “parodies” like Date Movie and Epic Movie, or whatever the Wayans brothers are up to. It makes the rare exceptions like Walk Hard or the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright movies look way better than they are, just by not being awful excuses for celluloid.

Not that every Mel Brooks movie is a home run (witness: Dracula, Dead and Loving It), but they at least try to be funny, and he always tells a story. Young Frankenstein plays against the expectations of a 1930’s horror movie without ever breaking face (or only occasionally, when Feldman looks at the camera), and it gets more laughs for it.

A lot of that is thanks to Wilder’s ability to go completely over-the-top while staying in character, channeling the archetypical “IT’S ALIVE!!!” mad-scientist while somehow still playing straight-man. The whole cast is really a showcase of comedic subtlety- every time I watch this, I notice something Feldman in particular does: little things like the exaggerated way he throws dirt when they dig up a corpse, or spearing a piece of cheese with a pencil.

It helps that although the script gets silly (“What knockers!”), the camera and the set look authentically like the original Karloff movie (imdb trivia tells me some of the same props were even used). There are even long tracking shots like in horror films, and pretty decent effects.

I guess funny people make funny movies. Were there terrible genre parodies in the seventies that just don’t get mentioned anymore?


Hey, does it really matter? It’s funny, everyone should see it. Frankenstein embraces his name, creates a monster, saves it from destruction, and gets the hot assistant. The monster gets his former fiancée, and a real brain. Everyone is well-endowed and happy.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I’m always of the opinion that comedy is much harder to achieve than tragedy, so I’m of course saying higher.

The Legacy:

Would you believe that Young Frankenstein was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (yes, that makes sense, you say) and Best Sound (uh, sure, why not you follow) at the Oscars?

Plus it’s on all sorts of “Greatest Comedies Of All Time” type lists, in the national film registry, and so forth. And it pervades pop culture as much as any classic- from Family Guy references to part of the music score being used with that clip of a prairie dog dramatically turning around.

Also it is now a stage musical, like everything else ever. Next up: Schindler’s List, The Musical.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube

Maybe you’d like some clips set to Black Sabbath? No? Then how about my favorite site gag of the film, involving some real human skulls and Marty Feldman’s awesome manic energy.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • Wait, Gene Hackman is in this film? I had no idea. Oh, he was the blind hermit!
  • Mel Brooks loves showtunes, when they work (the “Puttin’ On The Ritz” routine) and when they don’t (when Wilder and a boy awkwardly reference “Chattanooga Choo Choo” at the train station).
  • Somebody told me that “Blucher” means “glue,” which is why the horses whinny, but apparently that’s not true at all, although Brooks might have thought so when he wrote it. I like it better as an inexplicable running gag.
  • “Werewolf?” “There wolf…. There castle.”

0 Response to "IMDB #231 Young Frankenstein"

Powered by Blogger