Young Frankenstein - 1974
Young Frankenstein marks the third and last collaboration from comedy legends Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Co-written by the pair, this movie packs as many jokes as humanly possible within its one-hour-and-forty-six-minute run time that it has been selected #13 in AFI’s top 100 comedies of all time. The story, coming from Wilder and polished by Brooks, centers around the grandson of Victor Frankenstein and his efforts to distance himself from the family name only to see himself falling to the same scientific traps.
Quick note regarding the story: I listened to an interview from Mel Brooks where he says that Wilder pitched him the idea for the movie during a coffee break while filming Blazing Saddles. You know, that small movie that also happens to be #6 in AFI’s top 100 comedies. Blows my mind knowing how you are in the middle of filming a classic and you are just workshopping another one over coffee.
Mel Brooks famously had to fight the studio to shoot the movie in black and white. Despite this movie being a straight-up comedy, Brooks wanted to pay homage to the 1930’s classics that inspired their movie. The cinematography is now iconic, with Wilders hair, due to the back lit techniques, having almost a halo around him. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld gave this movie the respect it deserved and didn’t treat it as a silly comedy.
The premise is simple but genius at the same time, having the grandson of famed mad scientist grapple with the shadow his grandfather cast over him in the scientific field. One of the better running gags in this movie comes from Wilder correcting the pronunciation of his last name, “Fronkensteen” in hopes that at least that name wont conjures up the past of his grandfather and his work.
So, first I will talk about Gene Wilder and then I will run down the amazing cast this movie boasts. Wilder plays the titular role and, honestly, he is his brilliant self. There are comics that are funny a specific way. We have the self-deprecating comics, the angry yelling comics, off-beat delivery comics and the dry sarcastic delivery comics. Wilder is all of them rolled into one. He demonstrates his mastery over comedy throughout this movie and it’s a pleasure to watch. I’ll just highlight one example of him going from style to style. During a heated exchange with one of his students he accidently stabs his thigh with a scalpel. Playing it cool, he tilts his head back and with his voice cracking in pain say “Class. Is. Dismissed.” Enjoy below.
The cast. This review can turn into a 3,000-word essay of me highlighting the rest of the cast, but I will try to do some quick hits. Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth, Fronkensteen’s fiancé and eternal tease. She has multiple scenes in which she manipulates and plays with Fronkensteen to the delight of the audience. Legend Cloris Leachman plays Frau Blücher, a name that always makes the horses scream no matter where they are in the castle. Her exchange with Wilder in where she offers him multiple drinks despite him turning down each one is beyond hilarious. Teri Garr plays Inga, and her best work comes from all the conversation that have double meanings, having Wilder always in the innocent meaning and her in the other one. Kenneth Mars plays Inspector Kemp. He has a fake arm that he moves with his real arm, an eyepatch, and a monocle over the eyepatch. He speaks in an accent nobody understands and it is perfect. Gene Hackman plays the blind Priest. There aren’t words to describe it so you can just watch for yourself.
Now, I left out two players on purpose because they deserve to have a little more than a quick sentence: Peter Boyle as the Monster and Marty Feldman as Igor. Boyle, due to the lack of dialogue, had to sell his character through his eyes and groans, weirdly developing a great banter between him and Wilder that felt genuine and intimate. We all know that the most famous scene of this movie comes from Boyle and Wilder’s singing and dancing number and it holds up beautifully to this day. Feldman’s comedic timing is legendary. During the same interview I mentioned above, Brooks talked about Feldman. He said that Feldman asked him if he could add something to his speech during the diner scene, and Brooks obliged. What Feldman added was almost a full minute pause that lead to Wilder improvising urging him to finish his story (they edit it in the movie so the pause isn’t as long). Enjoy below.
Young Frankenstein is a beautifully shot comedy, something that is desperately missing from comedies today. Nowadays, comedies are shot extremely flat almost like a sitcom, not giving themselves the cinematic respect they deserve. The punch lines hold up to this day and the acting is something that should be studied by any aspiring comedian. There is so much I can pick and choose from this movie that its hard so I will just say… This movie is why I love movies.
Young Frankenstein is currently streaming on Netflix. I hope your interest is alive.
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