Young Frankenstein (1974)

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Favorite Films
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38. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Director: Mel Brooks

Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman

In 1974, it was good to be the King. Mel Brooks had already entertained audiences earlier that year with his irreverent and raunchy spoof of the Western genre, “Blazing Saddles.” The monster movies of the 1930’s and 40’s, specifically those based on the works of Mary Shelley, would be his next target.  For this picture, Brooks would collaborate on the script with his friend and “Blazing Saddles” star Gene Wilder, whose idea it was for “another Frankenstein.” What resulted from this team-up was pure comic gold.

The grandson of the famous Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) teaches physics at a medical school and wants nothing to do with the history of his family (“It’s pronounced ‘Fronk-en-steen!”). He believes his grandfather’s notions of reanimating dead tissue to be a pile of fecal matter. Still, when the will of his great-grandfather leaves him the family estate in Transylvania, he feels compelled to at least check things out. Once in Europe, Frederick is greeted by a hunchback by the name of Igor (Marty Feldman), pronounced “Eye-gore,” and a lovely young blonde named Inga (Teri Garr). At the estate, he meets housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), whose name terrorizes the horses each time it is uttered. Frederick’s curiosity overwhelms his disdain for his family history, and with Inga’s assistance he discovers his grandfather’s old laboratory, along with the book he wrote entitled “How I Did It.” Quickly, Frederick begins to believe that his grandfather may have been onto something after all, and decides to pick up where Victor Frankenstein left off.

Finding the right corpse to use after a night of grave robbing with Igor, Frederick goes to work on his experiment, but he still needs one key element: a fresh brain. Igor is sent to the brain depository to find the brain of scientist Hans Delbruck. He does, but a lightning storm scares him so that he drops the jar the brain rests in, destroying it. Not about to go back to the castle empty-handed, Igor chooses another brain, this one marked “Abnormal.” The experiment is a success and the Creature (Peter Boyle) is alive, but it becomes clear almost immediately that something is amiss. Igor’s mistake is revealed, but the Doctor has an even bigger problem to deal with: the growing concern of the citizens of Transylvania. Acting as a sort of voice of the people, Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) pays the good Doctor a visit. The Inspector wears both a patch and a monocle over the same eye, has a wooden arm, and speaks with such a heavy accent that everyone he talks to ends up asking him to repeat himself. Good, so it’s not just me.

Against Frederick’s wishes, Frau Blücher sets the creature free. Before he is recaptured, the Creature participates in two spoofs of key scenes from the first two “Frankenstein” films. In the first one, a little girl is picking the petals from a flower and dropping them into a well. Once she is finished, she asks the Creature what they should throw in next. Peter Boyle looks at the camera, as if to suggest that the Creature knows as well as we do what’s coming, only “Young Frankenstein” takes it in a completely different direction. In my personal favorite scene, the Creature also visits a blind hermit (Gene Hackman). His attempts to share soup, wine, and cigars only lead to pain and frustration on the part of the Creature, who finally has enough and leaves. The scene from “Bride of Frankenstein” of which this is a parody is also coincidentally my favorite part of that movie.

The Creature is soon corralled, and kept under control to an extent. In very King Kong-like fashion, Frederick gathers a crowd together to witness what he’s been able to do with the Creature, even performing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in a spot that brings the house down. But the Creature is frightened by a light bulb that bursts, and lashes out at the angry crowd, and from there it’s a race to the finish between the Doctor who wants to save his creation and the townspeople who want to see it destroyed. Again, “Young Frankenstein” takes a much different path from its source material.

Of all of Mel Brooks’ classic comedies, “Young Frankenstein” is the only one that gets funnier every time I watch it. It’s also the one that features what I think is the best overall story, and some of the most spot-on casting of any of his films. I love the fact that the original laboratory set from 1931’s “Frankenstein” is reused here. But perhaps the coolest part of the movie’s legacy is its influences that extend beyond the cinema. Aerosmith was putting together a song for their album Toys in the Attic, but were unable to come up with any lyrics. Taking a break from the studio, the band went to see “Young Frankenstein.” They found their inspiration from the scene in which Igor instructs Frederick to “walk this way.”

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