Movies That Everyone Should See: “Young Frankenstein”

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LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION… LIIIIIFE!!!!

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Mel Brooks is a comedian, actor, writer, director and producer whose career has spanned 50 years. He began his career in comedy as a stand-up and a writer for Sid Ceasar’s “Your Show of Shows”. He formed a comedy duo with one of his co-writers on that show, Carl Reiner, and together they found enormous success performing their famous routine “The 2000 Year Old Man”

But, in my opinion, Brooks’ strong suit was his parodies. He had an incredible ability to point out the ridiculous, and many of his works are spoofs. One of Brooks’ other famous works prior to becoming a director was “Get Smart”, which he co-created with Buck Henry. “Get Smart” parodies the spy genre… which was the rage at the time due to the soaring popularity of the James Bond films. Brooks wasn’t involved beyond the pilot, but the series bears his mark nevertheless.

In the late 1960s, Brooks began his career as a director of feature films with “The Producers”. He was confronted with studios who were reluctant to release the film due to its irreverent material, so he was forced to self distribute. The film wound up to be a financial success, however, and his directorial career was underway.

Within five years, he would have one of the most successful years that any director in history can lay claim to.

1974.

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In 1974, Brooks released “Blazing Saddles”, which was the second highest grossing film of the year ($119.5 million), AND “Young Frankenstein”, which was the third highest ($86.3 million). (For those of you wondering, the highest grossing film of the year was NOT “The Godfather: Part II” – $57.3 Million, but “The Towering Inferno” – $139.7 Million) Both films would find their way to being considered among the greatest comedies of all time.

“Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” share more than just their director, star and year of release. It was during the production of “Blazing Saddles” that “Young Frankenstein” was conceived.

I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said not another – we’ve had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don’t need another Frankenstein. His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, “That’s funny.”

- Mel Brooks, to the LA Times, 2010

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And so the two of them began to work on “Young Frankenstein” (the film is co-written by them). It’s a spoof of the many Universal “Frankenstein” films, and others that borrow the characters (IMDb shows 61 movies released prior to ’74 with the “Frankenstein’s Monster” keyword).

Many of the scenes and characters are direct parodies of the ’31 film and its sequels. The grave robbing scene, the brain robbery (right down to the dropped jar), the animation sequence, the dart game, the monster’s encounters with people, the torch waving mob. Scene after scene parody the tropes of the genre.

Filming began in the spring of ’74. Most of the lab equipment used as props in the film were the same props used for the 1931 film. Brooks shot the movie in black-and-white and employed many 1930s-style techniques, such as the opening credits, the score and the scene transitions. As a result, he captures a feel and a style that’s reminiscent of the originators of the genre, giving the comedy within an additional degree of subversion.

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And it is subversive.

Brooks and Wilder take a horror story – a story about a man who robs graves, creates composite corpses, and reanimates the dead – and turn it into a comedy featuring an insecure scientist, a libidinous assistant, a bug eyed hunchback, a comically stern, whinny-inducing matriarch, and a Frankenstein’s Monster that’s actually the sanest character of the lot.

The villagers turn on the monster because he freezes up during a song and dance routine. He earns his “Bride” due to his “generous attributes”. Eventually he emerges as a soft spoken, sweet, philosophical man. This is a film that gets enormous mileage out of taking the viewer’s expectations and flipping them on their heads.

The film is loaded with classic gags and moments.

“That’s Fronkenteen…”

“Walk this way”.

“What knockers!”

“Abby… Normal”

It seemingly has an endless supply of puns, jokes, and quips.

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It helps that the cast is a murderers row. Gene Wilder was a remarkable comedian at the height of his powers when “Young Frankenstein” was made. He was able to play off of Teri Garr, who does a fantastic job being both funny and desirable. Bringing in Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn off the bench certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Kenneth Mars is notable as the ill-tempered inspector. Even Gene Hackman gets into the act as the lonely blind man.

This may have been Peter Boyle’s signature role, but he has more reasons to remember it than simply the impact it had on his career. It was on the set of the film the he met his future wife, Loraine Alterman. He was still in full makeup when he asked her out for the first time.

But the star of the show may have been Marty Feldman as the hunchbacked Igor. Feldman suffered from Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease resulting in an overactive thyroid. It was an operation related to that condition which resulted in his memorably odd eyes. Like Brooks, Feldman cut his teeth as a writer… He worked with several of the future members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He was featured on numerous tv comedy shows during his career before eventually making his way to film.

Wilder is quoted as saying the part of Igor was written with Feldman in mind.

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Over the years, the success of Brooks’ parody films have spawned a host of lesser imitators.

“I’m considered the grandfather of take-off movies, of caricature movies, of movies that make fun of genres. And I want to apologize. I’m sorry I started it, it’s gotten outta hand, that’s all I can tell you”

- Mel Brooks, “Young Frankenstein” Blu Ray special features, 2008

But unlike many of its unworthy progeny, “Young Frankenstein” continues to stand the test of time. It’s achieved a place in pop culture that arguably eclipses the films it parodied. It’s almost 40 years old now, but it’s still as funny as ever. It has a comedic style with its own value… above and beyond whatever pop culture humor it derived via its parody elements.

“Young Frankenstein” was a critical and commercial success at the time it was released, and it’s still held in high esteem today. Brooks and Wilder were nominated for an academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay (but lost to “The Godfather: Part II”). It clocks in at #13 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs, and it has been preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.

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48 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Young Frankenstein”

  1. Totally agree, this is probably my single favourite comedy of all time. So witty, well-written and the characters are great. I do think it falls to bits at the end though. So many great lines…

    BLEUCHER!!!!

    • Awesome… but… what don’t you like about the end though? To me, the end always cracked me up. Madeline Kahn just takes it to a whole ‘nother level talking from the other room about poopy drawers as if theyve been married for eterntiy, then showing up in the Bride of Frankenstein wig and doing her “seduction dance”?

      One of the most memorable bits ever!!

      • The first ~70 minutes is just straight-up awesome genre parody, I always feel that the film ends on a ‘kerrazeyyy’ post-modern note. with things you would never find in the movies that it’s copying. Just like blazing saddles at the studio/cinema…

        Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still amazing!

      • I don’t remember the post-modern note at the end of Young Frankenstein, but it’s been a few years. Don’t remember it bothering me, regardless. I know what you mean about Blazing Saddles, though… as great as that film was, I think it could have been greater if it the ending had been more connected to the whole of the film. Felt just a little bit like Brooks wasn’t sure how to end it, as it was.

      • Took me years to gain comfort with the end of Blazing Saddles. Bugged me a bit too… for the longest time.

        Now I love it just like the rest of the flick. It’s too big for the “Fourth Wall”… that movie cannot be contained. :D

  2. Good choice for MTESS! This is one of the movies that hurt my side from laughing so hard! The story is well known but I could not wait for the next line. You never knew what was coming next. Scenes were just chock full of wit, quips, and old joke references. So many quotable lines. Need to see this one again and soon! Nice write-up!

  3. Mel Brooks needs to be studied and revered, as well as all Caesar’s team(Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner et all)! Won’t see this class again! This film is one of the best Dvd’s for dollar value, endlessly repeatable. I’m sure Dan has every line memorized ready to slip in the conversation at a moments notice! Great review!

    • I don’t know about every line. It’s hard not to toss a “Walk this way” around now and then…

      I quote Blazing Saddles more… Perhaps because it’s my favorite of the two?

      Regardless, I agree that was quite a generation of gifted comic writers…

  4. Definitely in my movie collection and is my #10 all time favorite film. I remember seeing it for the first time at a theater and trying to walk out afterwards with my back aching from laughing. The blind hermit and the Putting On The Ritz number are hysterical. This comedy is considered a classic among Frankenstein films. Thanks to Mel Brooks, the genius of Peter, Madeline, Kenneth and Marty will live on forever.

    • Yeah, excellent point… I was actually going to cap that Feldman paragraph with a sentence on how he died, and then I realized how many of the cast are no longer with us… Just seemed too much. They were a very gifted crew, I’m glad they all were brought together for this flick.

  5. Great choice for a MTESS. Young Frankenstein is one of my favorites as well. Everybody is just hysterical in it. In my opinion, it’s definitely Mel Brooks’s best film. (OK, I haven’t seen The Twelve Chairs or Dracula: Dead and Loving It yet, but considering the lack of popular acclaim for those two, I feel safe in assuming they won’t trump Fronkenschtein in my estimation.)

    • There’s exactly one funny line in Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

      Van Helsing: She’s…
      Jonathan: Dead?
      Van Helsing: No, she’s…
      Jonathan: Alive?
      Van Helsing: No, she is… nosferatu!
      Jonathan (confused): She’s Italian?

      There, now you don’t have to watch an otherwise terrible movie.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you concur Doctor.

      I haven’t seen 12 Chairs either, but Id like to, seeing as so much of his other work is such extreme high quality.

      There’s a stinker or two in there, as K2 points out…

  6. This one’s definitely a classic. The first time I saw it I was too young and didn’t get many of the jokes, but then I watched it a few years later and laughed through the whole thing!

    • That IS a telling comment. A compliment to the flick really.

      There’s a number of “Dirty” jokes in this flick. But they’re so clean, they’d go right over a kids head. Try that with today’s modern comedies. Hell no. Parents would have a hell of a conversation on their hands after leaving the modern theatre!!

  7. I must admit that I have not seen this. I love Blazing Saddles, but I hated the Producers. Which of those is this more like?

  8. Absolutely one of my favorite movies of all time.

    So here’s my Young Frankenstein story: In 1974 I was 10 Years old. My folks took us to see Blazing Saddles, which I thought was the best, funniest movie EVER MADE! I ranted and raved and learned all the lines and parroted them back to my Mother day and night. Finally she told me that if I loved the movie that much I should write a fan letter to Mel Brooks and tell him so. This was clearly a genius idea and I took to it with gusto. I wrote as only a 10 year old can, with out inhibition or embarrassment, expressing my undying love for the legendary Mr. Brooks (who I had never heard of before that). My mother carefully looked up the address of Mr. Brooks’ agent and sent him my letter. 2 weeks later I get back a very nicely hand written letter from Mel Brooks himself! Thanking me for my kind words and saying he hoped I liked his next movie as much, which he was working on even as he wrote that letter, something called “Young Frankenstein”. He included a signed publicity still with him, Wilder, Feldman, Garr, Boyle, and Leachman standing outside the door to the dungeon with Brooks demonstrating how he wanted Leachman to block the door (You know the scene, when the Herr Doctor makes them promise NOT TO OPEN THAT DOOR, NO MATTER WHAT!) Anyway I get this wonderful letter and picture (which I wish I still had) and started wailing and crying because MEL BROOKS WASN’T IN IT!
    “Sure he is honey” my Mother explained, “Look, there he is directing the others.”
    “That’s not MEL BROOKS!” I wept, “That cant be MEL BROOKS!”
    “Why not, dear?”
    “Cause Mel Brooks is a BLACK GUY!” I yelled.

    See, All the big signs over the movie marquees clearly said “MEL BROOKS’ BLAZING SADDLES”, and clearly the guy who was the star of Blazing Saddles was a black guy, ipso facto, Mel Brooks was Cleavon Little.

    OK, so it’s not really a Young Frankenstein story, except peripherally, but I thought I’d share it.

    Completely coincidentally I met Cleavon Little years later, but chickened out of telling him the story. I always wondered what he would have said.

    Anyway, I loved Young Frankenstein almost as much. :D

    • Thats awesome. Pure awesomeness. They were talking on the blu ray special features about how generous Brooks is with fans because they afford him the life he leads. He says its a small price to pay to always be super generous with signing, writing back, etc…

      I would be heartbroken now if I had such a thing as a kid and lost it… I’m sure you are too.

      I bet Cleavon Little would have laughed his ass off man, you should have told him!

      I saw Blazzing Saddles around that age too, but it wasn’t first run. It was at a second run theatre which must have been showing it years after its original release. My Dad took me. He was the coolest Dad ever that day, let me tell you. LOL!!

    • I remember seeing Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein the theater as well, and I was only 3 years old. Both of my kids love Young Frankenstein as well, and just like me back in the day, all of the “adult” humor goes right past them.

  9. It has been too long since I have seen this film… I still use the Werewolf? Therewolf! Joke today….

    I think it is time I introduced my kids to this one!!

    thanks for the reminder!

    • Yeah Scott, like I was saying before, I think most of it is very clean (dont know how old your kids are). Whatever “racy” jokes there are would go over most kids heads if theyre too young.

      Definitely a movie that should be passed on though!!

  10. Think my “list of films I need to see” that sits in my head needs to be made corporeal so I actually remember them. Not seen this, but all the names are familiar. I will try and find it!

    • You should. On both.

      Yes, make a list, it would be good for your 100 movies. Take a look at Eric’s blog if you get a chance, he did an awesome series where he mapped out all these classics he thought were important to see and then he checked them off and blogged the process… it came out really cool.

      And then of course, this flick should be on it. :D

  11. As so many of your reviews have done, this one brings back some wonderful memories. It’s one of those movies one can watch over and over with family/friends and find it more hysterical each time. Each actor was so unique to his/her role. It’s an all time favorite !!! Keep up the good work, Dan.

  12. Madeline Khan: classic in this film. Her operatic orgasm: hilarious! I watched this for the first time last week and couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. A little dry at times, but still funny. Great review.

    …It’s always weird for me to watch Gene Wilder in any role other than Willy Wonka.

    • Wonka is a classic, too. But he’s so great in all his roles I never have that problem. I love the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, too.

      You only just saw this this week huh? Nice timing.

  13. I still need to see this one. Heard nothing but great things, and it narrowly missed my movie project. I think I recall seeing it on Netflix Instant. If that’s the case, I will probably end up watching it regardless. Nice post, man!

  14. Pingback: The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time - UnderScoopFire!*

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