Editor’s Note: with the passing last week of Gene Wilder, I thought it would be a nice idea to take a trip down memory lane and review one of my all-time favourite Mel Brooks’ films – Young Frankenstein. I’ve enlisted David Bronstein to help recount some wonderful moments from the film and say a few words about Gene Wilder.
It’s two in the morning in Bel Air and Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks have gone through half a packet of digestive biscuits imported from Great Britain and several cups of tea. Spring is here and so is Mel Brooks’ new project a horror spoof called Young Frankenstein. He is sitting in Gene Wilder’s bungalow throwing ideas around as the script is taking shape. And then it happens.
Tiredness + lack of ideas + changes to a script = Gene Wilder vs Mel Brooks in a shouting match that had it been pre planned could have been sold as pay per view. The argument was so loud that the bell boy was close to calling the police; neither man would back down and a raging boiling Brooks storms out. The project looks dead in the can. Yet a quarter of an hour later Wilder’s phone rings he picks it up “who was that madman you had in your house? I could hear the yelling all the way over here. You should never let crazy people into your house, don’t you know that? They could be dangerous.” The voice belonged to Brooks and this was his way of apologizing.
Young Frankenstein came from an idea by Wilder whilst on the set of Blazing Saddles when he told Brooks that they should do a Frankenstein movie together. Brooks dismissed such an idea until Wilder told him that it would be a send up of the classic Universal movies. The only condition that Wilder had to star in the film was that Brooks did not. Wilder had argued that even though he didn’t mean it Brooks had a way of breaking the fourth wall and thought that it wouldn’t work with such a project. Brooks agreed but can still be heard and credited as a werewolf, Victor Frankenstein’s voice and oh a screaming cat who has been hit by a dart. A quick eye will also notice a bust near the films climax which uncannily looks like Brooks’ face.
The movie was obviously inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic book , but also took key moments from Universal’s six Frankenstein movies namely Son of Frankenstein. Kenneth Mars’ character Inspector Kemp was lifted from Lionel Atwill’s now classic role as the doodling Inspector Keogh with a twitchy arm.
Timing is everything in comedy and Brooks hired such actors and actresses as Teri Garr who played the naïve wistful blonde Inga. One of the major roles alongside Wilder’s was taken by Marty Feldman as Igor, his cockney deadpan accent is so perfectly funny that repeated views of the movie only enhance his genius. The first meeting of Igor and Frankenstein is memorable, when Igor pronounces Frederick Frankenstein as Froderick Frankensteen to a bemused and perplexed Wilder who then gets Igor’s name wrong too.
Wilder had the ability to make the mundane outstanding- the secret passageway scene with him and Garr is a stand out. He gets stuck behind a case of books in a revolving door and the only way to get back is for Garr to listen to his slow and detailed instructions. In that way Wilder always showed the same tactic as an actor when in trouble he would make, just with the skill of his voice, a mountain out of a molehill which of course results in us, the audience, in hysterics.
Wilder was also able to make an adolescent joke hilarious. So when he has Inga in his arms and looking at her body whilst behind him the steel doors are being knocked, Wilder can heart fully say “what incredible knockers” and get away with it. He also built up close relationships with his co-stars such as Cloris Leachman who is still with us at the age of 90. She played Frau Blucher a rather scary housekeeper in the vein of the same character from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rebecca. Every time someone mentions her name the horses randomly neigh! If you didn’t know you were watching a Mel Brooks picture up to that point you did now.
Brooks admitted that the filming of the movie was so much fun that he actually added scenes so the cast and crew could stick together for longer. Surprisingly this was the third and final time that Brooks directed Wilder but the two showmen would remain close friends up until Wilder’s death just a few weeks ago. Young Frankenstein will live in fans hearts for centuries because it is classic comedy that is worthy of repeated viewings. Its box office wasn’t too bad either. From a budget of just $2m the movie brought in over $100m worldwide, fifty times its budget.
We’ll leave you with just one word which you won’t find in the dictionary and if you’re wondering what it means well go and stick on the movie right now and don’t be such a schwanzstucker.
David Bronstein, HMS
Read the previous installment.