Our local Cinemark offered a big-screen viewing of 1974’s comedic horror classic “Young Frankenstein” featuring an introduction with the still-amusing and surprisingly spry Mel Brooks. Mr. Brooks took viewers on a tour of the movie studio’s back lot, showing sights such as the brain depository door, complete with brain-in-slot and a fabulous mural of the film. He shared the origin of the story, which was star Gene Wilder’s idea. Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks co-wrote the script. Mr. Brooks pitched a gorgeous coffee-table book with glossy photos from the filming of “Young Frankenstein,” suggesting those who purchase a copy not actually drink their coffee atop the book itself.
Fox distributed the movie which filled the screen with black and white delight, introducing Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a scientific-minded neuroscientist and professor who, though the grandson of the famous Victor Frankenstein, disavowed any interest in his infamous ancestor’s work. He changed the pronunciation of his name to further distance himself from any unpleasant association with this “cuckoo” relation. When Frederick Frankenstein discovers he inherited the ancestral property in Transylvania, his life changes. He leaves his professorship and socialite fiance, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) for the long journey to his ancestral homeland.
There he meets Igor, brilliantly portrayed by the incomparable Marty Feldman, who consistently broke the “third wall” to address the audience directly in characteristic Brooks-style. Igor, complete with moving hump and lazy ways, offers his services, just as Igor’s relative acted as Victor Frankenstein’s lab assistant. Cloris Leachman plays the stern Frau Blucker whose very name inspires horses to scream. She harbors a secret love for the deceased Doctor and desires the successful completion of his life’s work. Teri Garr plays Inga, an enthusiastic lab assistant and eventual love interest. A haunting melody and a read through Victor’s private book “How I Did It” (featuring paraphrased excerpt from Mary Shelley’s famous work about the modern Prometheus) lead Victor and Igor to grave robbery, a trip to the brain depository, and a dusting off of the old laboratory. Peter Boyle played the hulking, reanimated monster who befriends a flower-picking little girl and a blind man (Gene Hackman).
Suspecting nefarious happenings and monster-making, the villagers, led by Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars), rise up with flames, chains, and pitchforks. Unaware of the complications, Elizabeth stops by for a platonic visit with her fiance, but she falls victim to the monster’s amorous attentions. Chases, a little soft shoe, the “sweet mystery of life,” and a brain-swap later, and the movie concludes with a happy wrap-up.
Brooks rented and used props from the original 1931 Frankenstein movie from Kenneth Strickfaden for $5. In previous Frankenstein productions, Mr. Strickfaden’s set contributions were not acknowledged, and Mel Brooks made certain to mention him in the credits. Sentimental nods to the old movies pepper the scenes. Brooks used nostalgic opening credits, musical scores by John Morris, and fading transitions. He insisted the movie be filmed in black and white, losing a deal with Columbia by this insistence. He hired Gerald Hirschfeld, relying on Hirschfeld’s artistic expertise, and for love of the production, the cast worked for scale wages. Although Mel Brooks did not act in the movie, he did provide “voice” for a werewolf, Victor Frankenstein, and a shrieking cat.
“Young Frankenstein” was a critical and box office success. It garnered awards and award nominations as well as acclaim. The lasting appeal of this film allow it to appear on such lists as “Total Film Magazine’s” List of the 50 Greatest Comedy Films of All Time, Bravo TV’s List of the 100 Funniest Movies, and The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies. The US National Film Preservation Board selected it for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2003.
Mel Brooks adapted the story for stage. Its run on Broadway from November, 2007 until January 2009 earned Tony and Emmy Award nominations.
During his conversation about the film, Mel Brooks admitted it was the finest of the films he wrote and directed. Gene Wilder said it was the favorite movie he created.