Young Frankenstein is a 1974 American horror-comedy film directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder as the title character, a descendant of the infamous Doctor Victor Frankenstein. The supporting cast includes Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn and Gene Hackman. The screenplay was written by Brooks and Wilder.
Doctor Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) is an American medical lecturer, constantly taunted for his relationship to the corpse-bothering mad scientist, Victor. In an attempt to differentiate himself, he insists on his surname being pronounced “Fronkensteen”. An opportunity to escape the ridicule comes in the form of an inheritance, a Transylvanian castle belonging to his great grandfather, Baron Alphonse von Frankenstein. Meeting a Dwight Frye-esque hunchbacked, pop-eyed servant at the station, Igor (“it’s Eye-gore”) and an eye-catching blonde assistant he’s been allocated (Inga played by Teri Garr), he tries to settle into his new abode, watched over by the over-bearing housekeeper, Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman).
Despite his initial reluctance, with the encouragement of Inga and the discovery of Victor’s illicit tomes, he elects to resurrect the dead, as is the family tradition and tasks Igor with finding the required body parts. Alas, Igor has to with a cast-off brain after dropping the correct one (that of a world-famous scientist), explaining to Frankenstein that he believed the owner was “Abbey… Abbey Normal…”. With a lunking great corpse of an executed criminal already procured, a familiar storm-backed experiment takes place with, inevitably, life the end result – the Monster (Peter Boyle) has to be sedated after a quick game of charades as he is being so unruly.
The locals are alerted to suspicious goings-on at the Frankenstein place and Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars, nearly matching his stunning performance in The Producers) is dispatched to deal with the situation. Assuring the Inspector that nothing is afoot, Frankenstein gathers selected guests to a viewing of his new creation, complete with a show-stopping rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the highlight of the whole film. The routine is brought to an abrupt halt when The monster is startled by an exploding light bulb and is back roaming the countryside, terrorising to locals. Unlike the films upon which Young Frankenstein is based, an unlikely monstrous love affair is kindled and all that remains is for the mad scientist and his gang to placate the locals and convince them not to destroy his animated corpse.
Though not all Mel Brook’s spoofs work (to put it mildly!), what is inherent is his genuine love for the subjects he is referencing; there is no way Young Frankenstein could be such a success without a startling attention to detail in recreating the look and plot of the original Universal classics.
Coming off the back of the hugely successful Blazing Saddles, the idea was conceived by Brooks to make a new Frankenstein film based on the notion that there was one family member who wanted nothing to do with the history of reanimating dead people. With Wilder in tow, who himself was at the top of his game, both Peter Boyle (soon to appear in Taxi Driver) and well-known oddball British comedian Feldman, were cast as they both shared the same agent.
Under pressure from Columbia Pictures to make the film in colour, Brooks resisted, black and white being favoured to make the film more redolent of the originals; similar techniques were used in the make-up department to bring an otherworldliness to The Monster’s visage (blue/green hues working a treat) – dailies were enough to allow Brooks to plough ahead with his intentions.
A demonstration of the director’s commitment to his sources can easily be seen when considering that he managed to borrow the original props used in both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein; Ken Strickfaden, who had made the elaborate electrical machinery for the lab sequences, was still alive in the Los Angeles area. He visited Strickfaden and found that he had saved all the equipment, Brooks brokering a deal to rent the equipment, thus giving Strickfaden the screen credit he’d never had in the original films (his vintage equipment also belatedly appeared in Al Adamson’s 1971 movie Dracula vs. Frankenstein).
Production stalled briefly when Brooks requested extra funds to complete the film, leaving 20th Century Fox to enter the fray and give the director the required $500,000. The original cut left the film hopelessly over-running, double the eventual length and leaving both Brooks and Wilder unimpressed – their judicious editing left a far snappier result and jokes which work throughout. Several scenes were straight parodies of those previously seen in the earlier works – in particular the meeting of The Monster and the hermit in Bride, originally touching and profound, here featuring an almost unrecognisable Gene Hackman playing a clumsy buffoon causing the creature endless torment.
Equally, Feldman’s portrayal as the oafish, quipping Igor is perhaps the best-remembered serf to Frankenstein’s master, outshining the parts played by both Frye and Bela Lugosi, even down to the name Igor now being synonymous with the hunchbacked wretch, despite Frye never going by the name. His line early in the film “walk this way” (leading to Wilder aping his slouched gait) was picked up by the rock band Aerosmith, later to name one of their biggest hits after it.
Eventually repaying Fox’s faith, Young Frankenstein took a staggering $86,300,000 at the US box-office alone, on a meagre budget of less than $3 million and is now considered one of the greatest comedy films ever made. The film has since been made into a musical and remains one of the most successful horror crossovers ever made.
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania
Cast and characters:
- Gene Wilder as Doctor Frederick Frankenstein
- Peter Boyle as The Monster
- Marty Feldman as Igor
- Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher
- Teri Garr as Inga
- Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp
- Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth
- Richard Haydn as Herr Falkstein
- Liam Dunn as Mr. Hilltop
- Danny Goldman as Medical Student
- Oscar Beregi as Sadistic Jailor
- Arthur Malet as Village Elder
- Richard Roth as Inspector Kemp’s Aide
- Monte Landis and Rusty Blitz as Gravediggers
- Anne Beesley as Little Girl
- Gene Hackman as Blindman