Sunday, February 17, 2013

#916. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Starring: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman

Tag line: "The scariest comedy of all time!"

Trivia: Rock band Aerosmith took a break from a long night of recording to see "Young Frankenstein" in 1974. Steven Tyler wrote the band's hit "Walk This Way" the morning after seeing the movie, inspired by Marty Feldman's first scene, the "walk this way... this way" scene

1974’s Young Frankenstein features writer / director Mel Brooks doing what he does best: satirizing Hollywood’s illustrious past. This time around, he’s taking jabs at Universal’s classic Frankenstein movies, pillaging elements from the series’ first three films (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein) to spin a hilarious tale of science run amuck. Co-written by Gene Wilder (who also stars), Young Frankenstein is one of the craziest, most side-splitting spoofs ever made. 

Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) is the grandson of Victor Frankenstein, the madman who tried to bring the dead back to life and, in the process, created a monster. As you can imagine, Frederick, who’s also a scientist, isn’t exactly proud of his lineage, going so far as to change the pronunciation of his last name (insisting he be called Fronk-en-steen) to distance himself from his notorious grandfather. Destiny catches up with him, however, when he inherits the family castle in Transylvania. Leaving his pampered fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), behind, Frederick travels to the home of his ancestors, and, once there, inadvertently stumbles upon Victor’s research journals. After reading them, Frederick has a change of heart, and sets out to prove his grandfather’s theory was correct. With the help of assistants Igor (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr), he successfully duplicates the experiment that, years earlier, had resulted in disaster. Unfortunately, Frederick’s “creation” (Peter Boyle) is every bit as monstrous as that of his grandfather’s, once again striking fear into the hearts of nearby villagers. 

So, which character in Young Frankenstein gets the most laughs? It’s impossible to say. Gene Wilder’s Frederick is a borderline psychotic through much of the film, and his frenzied personality is good for some hearty chuckles (starting with the opening sequence, in which Frederick is teaching a class on nerve impulses and motor reflexes). Neither Madeline Kahn’s Elizabeth nor Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blucher, the caretaker of the Frankenstein estate, are given much screen time, yet make the most of what little they get, and Teri Garr’s Inga strikes the perfect balance between innocent and sexy. Kenneth Mars plays Inspector Kemp, the local constable with the wooden arm who’s not above cheating at darts, and many of Peter Boyle’s facial expressions as the mute monster are downright priceless (at one point, he drops in on a blind hermit played by Gene Hackman, whose attempts to serve the monster hot soup lead to what may be the film’s funniest moment). In my opinion, though, it’s Marty Feldman’s Igor who steals the show; from his initial scene at the train station (“walk this way”) through to his “fight” with Elizabeth’s mink stole, the saucer-eyed Feldman remains in top form every second he’s on-screen. In a movie with so many great characters, he manages to stand above the rest. 

The debate rages on as to which of Brooks’ films is his masterpiece, with many fans split between this movie, The Producers and Blazing Saddles. One thing most agree on, however, is that Young Frankenstein ranks among the best comedies of the 1970s.

1 comment:

Eric Gilliland said...

My all time favorite comedy. Gene Wilder is still a hero of mine. Blazing Saddles was the one I watched more as a kid, probably because the humor is tad more juvenile, but I turn more to Young Frankenstein as I get older. Young Frankenstein mixes lowbrow and highbrow humor like the those old Marx Brothers movies. A Masterpiece.