Having recently re-watched the film Young Frankenstein, I realize now what a wonderful thing this weblog of mine is. It is was started precisely for occasions like this, to talk about, or rethink, something that deserves such attention.
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is simply one of those films that deserves recognition. This movie is Mel Brooks finest effort, and strangely enough (or telling) it was not his idea in the first place. This movie was the brainchild of Gene Wilder. It was his first venture as a screenwriter and, with the collaboration of Brooks, has become a classic of cinema.
The film itself is a simple parody of the original Frankenstein directed by James Whale. What I find most striking about the satire, is that it is much more effective because it does not attempt to put down what it is satirizing, but has a great respect for it's subject. It's not making fun of the original, but rather having fun with the Boris Karloff classic. The best satire works exactly this way.
The cast is phenominal. Gene Wilder plays the lead as the successor to his relative's original work on re-animating life. His look and tone are picture perfect. I cannot recount the number of times I see a certain glint in his eye, a slight tear of respect or awe towards his creation. Gene Wilder has so many wonderful films, but this performance challenges his best work in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and The Frisco Kid.
Joining him are Cloris Leachman as the dominating Frau Blucher (sound of horses neighing), Teri Garr in a wonderful perfomance with a spot on German accent as the lab assistant and later love interest, Kenneth Mars in a strange and absolutely original role as Inspector Kemp (and arm), and Gene Hackman in a cameo of sorts playing the blind man that takes the creature in and pours soup in his lap.
But outside of Wilder, the movie is stolen by three members. First up is Peter Boyle, who at this point had made a name for himself, but with this performance really showed some range and beautiful instincts as an actor. What he does with the creature is truly brilliant and in many respects makes the film. It is the way he portrays this character that ties directly into the original Shelley novel. It is what he does with this role that makes this more than just simple parody and turns the film into the classic that it is.
Second, one must mention the work done by Madeline Kahn (God rest her soul.) She has many wonderful films to her credit, but this was her masterpiece. She chose to take the part of the fiance rather than the part later filled by Garr. She portrays this character with camp but never so much as to over-play it. Many have never fully appreciated the true comedic genius of this woman, and in this film she shows why it should be appreciated and does it with beauty and style that I never truly appreciated myself. Some of her lines are spoken with perfect quality, and her moment when the creature has his way with her is a highlight of the film.
Lastly, the work of Marty Feldman must be singled out. Since passed away, this role must be looked at to truly appreciate his own comedic talent. This was his first major breakthrough to American audiences, and though the rest of his career would never really represent the talent he held, this film showcases it in spades. Gene Wilder has called him the heart and soul of Young Frankenstein and with reason. From his hump changing shoulders from scene to scene, to his occasional outbursts of insanity (his remeniscing about his father yelling at him in the bathroom or his spot-on Groucho Marx), Feldman frankly steals the show. I mean, come on..."Abbe someone....Abbe Normal, I think it was." Simply classic!
The feel of the movie is something to behold as well. As mentioned, it has a love for it's subject matter, and not just for the film it attempts to parody, but for the original novel as well. I feel that it perfectly captures the spirit of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of my favorite books. The creature is represented as just that - a creature rather than a monster. In the book, he has a refined quality to him, and in this movie he goes so far as to do a tap dance number to Irving Berlin's Puttin' on the Ritz. The cinematography is incredible, paying true homage to the orginal film, while hightening the comedic elements where it can. The fact that it was filmed in black and white is key. Most studios were finished with that style at the time, but Brooks was adament. He refused to direct if it was not filmed as such. Had it been in color, I dare say it would have been a completely different film and certainly not near as great.
The music is not only beautiful, but necessary as a player in the film. The costumes and set are subtle yet perfect, to the point of actually using the original lab sets from the orginal Frankenstein. And obviously the script, originally written by Wilder and perfected by Brooks, perfectly captures the style, feel and tone of the original while paying tribute in a brilliantly comedic way.
All in all, Young Frankenstein is a masterpiece of film making. This collaboration between Brooks and Wilder stands the test of time to remain a classic, probably more so than any other film either of them did in their history. I am constantly amazed when watching it as I notice little tidbits here and there, laughing at things I had either forgotten or just seen for the first time and truly awed by it's respect and tenderness to the story being told.
If you have never seen this film (perish the thought) then you MUST go out and rent it today. In fact, buy it because you will watch it over and over again for the rest of your life. It is that good. It is a true classic of American cinema and should be watched and appreciated by everyone. That is all.