What do you get when you cross Mary Shelley with Mel Brooks? One of the funniest motion pictures of all time, Young Frankenstein, of course!
Did the genius director set out to create a cinematic masterpiece? Probably—that’s what makes him a genius director. But then again, not every film by Brooks has acquired such a following that it morphs into a successful musical three decades after its original release.
What makes YF special?
Let’s start with the obvious—the cast. In 1974 Gene Wilder was on the A List for comedic actors, having starred in such greats as The Producers, Start the Revolution without Me, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and others. In ’74 he celebrated the release of no less than five feature films, including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. This man understands humor. He is a master at deadpan, slapstick, puns and innuendo. He creates a sympathetic hero with little more than puppy eyes and a drawn out grimace. His pronunciation of “Frahnkensteen” recurs in my life more often than one might expect.
Continue to Madeline Kahn. She is every bit Wilder’s equal when it comes to comedy. She was a fiery redheaded beauty who commanded attention with the raise of an eyebrow. Her portrayal of Elizabeth cracks me up. I quote her lines constantly. “Taffeta, Darling,” is a term of endearment that my husband understands and appreciates. I just wish I could sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as she could. She was one of my heroes.
What about Marty Feldman? Like Wilder and Kahn, he was a common fixture in Mel Brooks’ comedies. His bugged eyes and extremely slight build made him the perfect Igor. My oldest son sings “I Ain’t Got Nobody” just like Feldman, and it makes me laugh every time. He’s a bit “Abby Normal,” too.
Teri Garr’s Inga is just lovely. Her innocence compels us to love her. Her timing and facial expressions, as well as her canned Transylvanian accent develop her character so well, that I can’t help but imitate her whenever I get the chance. “Put. Zee Candle. Beck!”
Cloris Leachman is enjoying a second youth these days, but in 1974 her Frau Blücher was a scream. There is a myth surrounding her character’s name. Whenever anyone spoke her name, a horse neighs. It’s often said that ‘Blücher’ is German for ‘glue,’ and that the horse is afraid to be sent to the glue factory. Though that would be funny, it isn’t true. The German word for glue is leim.
The last cast member I’ll extol here is the monster himself, Peter Boyle. He is one of my favorites for so many reasons. His monster makes you laugh, cry, and at times, roll your eyes. His village debut, a duet of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with Dr. Frankenstein, receives thunderous applause before disintegrating into chaos. Just the sight of Frankenstein’s monster in top hat and tails makes me giggle. He was the most adorable “zipper-neck” of them all.
Add to this mayhem Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp, some incredible sets and just a touch of music and you have all the makings of a film like nothing coming out of Hollywood today.
The story has just the right set-up and twist. Brooks’ direction is amazing. His props and gags keep you watching for details that you missed the last time you watched. The actors not only perform to Olympian standards, they also have tons of fun with their characters, and it shows.
“Pardon me, boy! Is this theTransylvania station?”
“Yah, yah! Track tventy-nine. Oh, can I give you a shine?”
From start to finish this movie is utterly quotable. If you haven’t seen it, go get it right now. Don’t bother renting it; you’ll end up purchasing it anyway. It’s a Halloween tradition that will make a monster-lover out of everyone.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!