A Look Back at Young Frankenstein
Everybody knows and loves the 1974 Mel Brooks classic, "Young Frankenstein". It's a movie that should be a staple of any movie nerds collection, drug out to watch at least once a year. It's simply that good of a movie. A combination of the talent involved, written by comedy god Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, as well as an A level cast make this movie one for the ages. Through in the fact that their goal was to lampoon a horror classic in its own right, Universals "Frankenstein", there's just something to love for every genre afficianado out there.
Presented in Black and White. -No Offense
Mel Brooks movies are a wonderful thing, each of them classics in their own right. Most fascinating in this day and age of the DVD and extra features, you will find many anecdotes and ephemera that bind most of the movies in some shape or form. During the commentary for the 1987 film "Spaceballs", Brooks tells a story dating back to 1974's "Blazing Saddles" where Gene Wilder agreed to join the cast of Blazing Saddles, as long as Mel agreed to shoot his movie next. That movie, according to Mel, was "Young Frankenstein".
Not the first time that Mel and Gene had worked together, the two were already well known to have talents that worked well together. When it came to laughs, there were none finer. From there, they two were able to pull in a few other Brooks stalwarts such as Madelline Kahn as well as a band of newer faces to create the film. While Gene and Mel are both credited as being the writers for the film, in truth there wasn't that much to actually script. The majority of the actors managed to ad-lib a good portion of their lines, lending a natural and funnier feel. Classic scenes such as Cloris Leachman's when offering Dr. Frankenstein a belt of whiskey before turning in was all ad-libbed.
The two filmmakers however did not set out to tear apart the legend that was Universals original take on the Mary Shelley story. In fact, they viewed the project as a loving jab and worked to ensure it stayed that way. The settings and atmosphere cast in "Young Frankentsein" are faithful to the original film for good reason; they were in fact the very props created for "Frankenstein" in 1931. All of the gadgets and machines shown in the castle were the very same used to bring Boris Karloff to life. To further the effect, Brooks and Wilder also decided to film the movie in black and white to keep it true to its roots. This was a move uncommon in 1974 as the color film was still in its infancy; so much of a shock, Columbia Pictures flat out refused to make the movie. Strong in their convictions, Wilder and Brooks refused to cave to the studios demands and and began to shop elsewhere, eventually find a home at 20th Century Fox who fully agreed that the film needed to be shot in black and white, just like its predecessor.
One of the longest lasting products to spin from "Young Frankenstein" was its cultural legacy, one that took hold in the minds of movie goers the world over more than most in 1974. To this day, references to the film still crop up from time to time, still illiciting laughs from all who have seen the movie before.
One of the oldest accounts of its cultural clout comes from the band Aerosmith. In 1974 while recording their third album "Toys in the Attic", the band was stuck in the studio and growing burnt out. Having found a riff that they felt was easily grown into a tune that was both catchy and good, they were still stumped. The music was there, the lyrics wouldn't come. In an effort to give the creative process a break, the band took a night off and went to see :Young Frankenstein". A certain scene in the movie struck the band with its humor and soon lead Steven Tyler to awake the next morning and pen the lyrics to their hit "Walk This Way".
Perhaps one of the more monumental claims to "YF's" influence, the film as been referenced many times over the past few decades, both in respect and for a quick laugh. With Peter Boyle starring in the TV series "Everybody Loves Raymond", he made an appearance in the halloween episode dressed as the monster. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" borrows a line from Marty Feldman when Sallah says to Indy; "Asps. Very dangerous. You go first." The list goes on. From "Family Guy" to the "Simpsons", every body wishes for a grab at the Mel Brooks pie.
Further extending the cultural reach of the film, in 2007 Mel Brooks transformed the former black and white film into a fully produced Broadway musical. Starring "Hostel 2's" Roger Bart in the lead role of Dr. Frakenstein and Megan Mullally of "Will and Grace" fame as Elizabeth Benning, the show opened to mixed reviews but still plays today. With songs written and produced by Mel Brooks, the show remains true to its big screen equivalent with some extra song and dance to boot.
A movie is nothing without a cast capable of pulling it all together. "Young Frankenstein" brought together some of the top comedic talent of the time. All brought a myriad of skills to the table and helped to develop this idea into something grand.
Gene Wilder - Already well known for his roles as Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and Jim in "Blazing Saddles", Wilder was already set in stone as a leading man, both acting wise and comedic wise. Being well in tune with Mel Brooks, it was a natural fit and he brought to life an enigmatic, hilarious, and easy to connect with Dr. Frankenstein. Sorry. Fronkenshteen.
Marty Feldman - A star in his own right, both as an comedian and as a writer, Marty Feldman had a long and storied career. His trade mark wide set and bulging eyes made him a perfect fit for the role of Igor. Known for his ad-libbing and wise cracking ways, it was Feldmans ongoing prank during shooting to move his hump to random spots on his back waiting to see if Brooks or Wilder would take notice; once revealed, the gag was added to the film.
Madeline Kahn - Fairly new to Hollywood, Kahn showed her comedic chops in "Blazing Saddles" as the German Sexpot. Originally cast for the role of Inga, she opted out of the role preferring to play that of Elizabeth who would eventually become the monsters bride. Already an accomplished stage actress, Kahn was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1975. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a comedy or musical, she shared more screen time in the film than Frau Buchler's Cloris Leachman who was nominated for best Lead Actress in the same film. Adding her own unique sexuality to the role of the monsters bride, Kahn made what little time on screen she had memorable.
Terri Garr - Called in after Madeline Kahn turned down the role of Inga, Mel Brooks instructed Ms. Garr that if she could return the next afternoon with a convincing German accent, she could have the role of Inga. When she replied on the spot, ""Vell, yes, I could do zee German ackzent tomorrow - I could come back zis afternoon", she was given the role immediately. Having already acted for nearly 11 years by the time production started on "Young Frankenstein", Garr was a shoe-in for the role; her blond hair, long legs, and 'such tremendous knockers' making the choice even easier.
Peter Boyle - Fearing being stereotyped as a hulking thug early in his career, Boyle jumped at the chance to show his chops as a comedian when offered the role as The Monster. Standing a hulking 6' 2" tall, it was a natural fit. Boyle lent much of his own ad-libbing skills to the filming of "Young Frankenstein" and soon thereafter became known for his dry wit and straight faced delivery.
Cloris Leachman - Already a 27 year veteran to the sliver screen, Cloris Leachman was an easy choice for the role of Frau Buchler, the horse scaring house keeper of Frakenstein Castle. Known for her sense of humor and comedic timing, Leachman would return for two more Brooks films, "High Anxiety" and "History of the World Pt. 1", cementing herself as a Brooks regular.
"Young Frankenstein" is truly one of the classics for the ages. While it technically lies soundly in the realm of comedy, its love and adoration of a horror classic makes it an easy fit and deserves recognition from places like Bloody Good Horror. It will stick in your head, cause your friends to quickly grow tired of you repeating lines and scenes out of context; thats just part of its magic however.
A film that has surpassed the need for a traditional review, it remains a standard that I must watch every year as Halloween draws close. You'll laugh, you'll laugh some more; you'll run out after watching wanting nothing more to run out and watch "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" post haste!