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Young Frankenstein (1974)







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Mel Brooks's followed up his enormously successful western spoof, Blazing Saddles, with this one on the horror genre, spoofing both Frankenstein and The Bride Of Frankenstein. It's not only a parody, but a knowlegeable homage to its cinematic forebears. Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (which he defiantly pronounces "FRONK-en-steen"), a medical school lecturer who describes his infamous grandfather's work as "doo-doo." The young Dr. Frankenstein faces destiny when he inherits granddad's Transylvanian castle. There he meets Igor (Marty Feldman, who pronounces it "eye-gore"), whose hunchback inexplicably changes from the left side to the right throughout the movie (spoofing the inattention to detail common in old low-budget movies); Inga (Teri Garr), a young woman who comes with the castle and helps out (I won't tell you what it means, but a classic scene is when Wilder tells her Put the candle back); and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman, who also plays Nurse Ratchet in "High Anxiety," Mel's spoof of Hitchcock's Vertigo), who causes horses to whinny in fright at the mere mention of her name.

Eventually, Frederick finds his grandfather's private library and a copy of his book, "How I Did It." Frederick decides to create a new monster (Peter Boyle), a big, dumb corpse with a zipper round his neck and an abnormal brain in his head (when the monster seems to be having trouble thinking, Frederick asks Eyegore whose brain it was. Eyegore said he got one in a jar labled "Abby something...Abby-normal"). Another of the movie's highlights is a duet by Frederick and the Monster to Puttin' on the Ritz.

Young Frankenstein combines Mel's unique brand of comedy with stylish direction and an excellent cast. The black-and-white cinematography really captures the look of an early 1930s films - there's even a scene in which Frankenstein meets a blind old hermit (Gene Hackman) who shares his (very hot) soup with the monster but misses the bowl. As director, Mel balances his off-the-wall humor with the style of a classic Universal monster films. The castle, with its cobwebs, dust, skulls, original lab equipment, and strange goings-on, could easily have been inhabited by Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Gene Wilder later attempted his own genre spoof, "Haunted Honeymoon," which came nowhere near the hysterical Young Frankenstein. He did better as actor-only in a series of films partnered with Richard Pryor and of course as that strange candy-maker in the MonsterVision movie Willy Wonka (another film with a large cult following).

Kenneth Mars plays Inspector Kemp, and had earlier appeared in Mel's very first film: the movie version of "The Producers" (in which Mars was the German playright who comes up with "Springtime For Hitler" while wearing a WW2 helmet)

Director Mel Brooks convinced 20th Century Fox that this spoof of old Universal monster movies should itself be in balc and white. Ironically, when Universal re-released its original Frankenstein (1931) in the 1950s, the b&w film was tinted green in an attempt to make it more creepy. By the way, if you are watching this movie on the Turner channel, the scene where the monster (Peter Boyle) beds Madeline Kahn in a realistic-enough sex scene, has been edited out by the TNT High Sheriffs (why is Madeline Kahn bursting into song Mommy?)
Though no one knew it at the time, Brooks was also spoofing a real-life person known as the Elephant Man in the scene where the monster is put on stage as entertainment (Brooks later produced a 1980 docu-drama about the Elephant Man, without the prominent Mel Brooks name in the credits to prevent audiences from thinking it was a comedy)

Some other stand-out scenes: Wilder and the German housekeeper (Teri Garr) investigate a secret door with disasterous results (Put the candle back), the monster sharing soup with a clumsy blind herder in the woods, and of course when Gene Wilder yells It's Alive in the midst of the actual 1930s Frankenstein movie laboratory set.

By the way, Mel Brooks' serious look at the Elephant Man, with Anthony Hopkins as a sympathetic doctor who buys him from a sideshow of freaks, was itself spoofed by Jeff Goldblum in another movie (not a comedy, as a struggling actor cast in a Broadway comedy/musical version, complete with elephant ears and a trunk).

Cast:
Madeline Kahn, Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman, Richard Haydn
Writers: Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks (based on the characters from the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley). Music by John Morris. 108 minutes rated PG for Adult Themes & Language. Filmed in Black and White (no offense)

"Young Frankenstein" availability on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

Some other Mel Brooks films:
Spaceballs (1987) MonsterVision review & host segments
Director Mel Brooks ended his hilarious "History Of The World Part I" (1981) with spoof ads for non-existant films including Jews In Space. "Spaceballs" spoofs everything from Star Wars (with well over half of Mel's budget going to ILM for special effects) to Alien (John Hurt collapses, out pops a monster, and he says, "Not again!" as the monster goes into a song & dance), Planet Of The Apes (the apes, riding horses, see something on the beach at the end of Mel's movie and say, "There goes the neighborhood"), and others. Mel Brooks plays both the evil Emperor and the little Jedi master Yogurt (who has a commercial for Spaceballs merchandise within the scene, spoofing the ultra-commercialization of Star Wars). Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters plays the evil Dark Helmet. Bill Pullman is in the Harrison Ford role, with John Candy as his big furry sidekick. Daphne Zuniga (who previously starred in the low-budget Star Wars spoof "Hardware Wars") plays the kidnapped Princess, with Joan Rivers as her Jewish robot. Michael Winslow of the Police Academy movies is on hand to provide his own sound effects as Dark Helmet's communications officer. Additional cast: Dick Van Patten (father of the star of Zone Troopers), George Wyner, Lorene Yarnell, Renny Graham, Rhonda Shear, Dom DeLuise (Cannonball Run). 96 minutes rated PG

High Anxiety (1977)
Director Mel Brooks also stars in this spoof of Hitchcock films as a psychiatrist with vertigo who is appointed head of a creepy sanitarium (with Cloris Leachman as Nurse Ratchet. Come to think of it, Leachman played a similar character in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967) as the head of a white slavery ring in a Chinatown bordinghouse. Barry Levinson (director of Rain Man and Sphere) co-wrote the script (as well as co-writing Mel's Silent Movie in 1976) and has a cameo as the psycho hotel bellboy who attacks Brooks in the shower (spoofing Psycho) As Brooks is first driving toward the sanitarium, the music builds ominously...and builds and builds...until a bus carrying an orchestra passes him on the highway. Additional cast: Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Dick Van Patten, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Murphy Dunne, Jack Riley, Charlie Callas. 94 minutes rated PG

New Faces (1954, co-writer only)
Mel co-scripted this movie version of a popular Broadway review, which had a lot of future stars: Ronny Graham (who would later appear in Brooks films), Robert Clary (Hogan's Heroes), Eartha Kitt (Batman TV-series Catwoman), Alice Ghostley (the bumbling maid in Bewitched), Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur), and Carol Lawrence. 99 minutes. No relation to "New Faces of 1937" starring Milton Berle with Joe Penner, Parkyakarkus, Jerome Cowan, Harriet Hilliard and Ann Miller. Then again...

The Producers (1967)
Now a popular Broadway play, director Mel Brooks based this movie partly on a Zero Mostel-type small-time off-Broadway producer he once worked for and partly on "New Faces of 1937" with Mostel in the Milton Berle role as the owner of an unwatchably-bad play. In Mel's version (which won him an Oscar for Best Screenplay), the producers (Mostel and Gene Wilder) deliberately want to put on a bad play because Mostel has sold 25,000% of the profits (that's 100% twenty-five times), so if it flops, no investor has to be paid, while keeping the extra invesment money. The play they come up with in the movie is a musical tribute to Nazi Germany, with the classic song "Springtime For Hitler & Germany" (watch for Mel's cameo in this clip as a dancer saying "Don't be stupid be a smarty, come on and join the Nazi Party"). They hire a former-Nazi (Kenneth Mars) to write and star in it, and think they can now retire to Rio. But the stunned audience decides that it's a comic satire and the surprise hit now has investors wanting to be repaid...
Additional cast: Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voustinas, Estelle Winwood, Renee Taylor, Bill Hickey. 88 minutes.

The 12 Chairs (1970, writer/director/actor)
Impoverished Russian nobleman (Ron Moody) seeks 12 identical chairs smuggled out of Russia because one has a fortune in jewels hidden inside. But a rival (Dom DeLuise) is also after the chairs, so they race to find each chair one by one. There are not really any sympathetic characters, though Mel Brooks in a supporting role is hilarious as ever. 94 minutes rated G. This version was filmed in Yugoslavia, and there have been other movie version of the same basic story filmed by others in Hollywood, Germany, England, Argentina and even Cuba.

Shinbone Alley (1971, aka Archy & Mehitabel, co-story only)
Mel Brooks only animated movie to date was this odd-ball feature based on his Broadway musical of a "lovesick, philosophical cockroach" and "the object of his affection, a hedonistic cat." Leonard Maltin says it has "some witty and tuneful moments, and great vocal performances by Eddie Bracken and Carol Channing," but that it's not for kids. Additional voices: John Carradine, Alan Reed (TV's voice of Fred Flintstone)

Blazing Saddles (1973)
This one set the tone for Mel's most popular movies--spoofs of various genre types. The first thing he did was go against Hollywood tradition of all-white casting in Westerns. In the real West most menial labor (including cowboys) was done by non-whites, so this spoof is actually more authentic in that regard than most previous westerns. Slim Pickens is hilarious as a redneck foreman on the railroad who is more concerned about losing a handcar sinking in quicksand than the black workers sinking with it. Anyway, to "punish" a small town, scheming Harvey Korman talks the Governor (Mel Brooks) into sending them a black man as the new Sheriff (Cleavon Little in his greatest role). For the title song, Mel asked Frankie Lane to sing it strait, making it even funnier. The script was a team effort by Brooks, Richard Pryor (who Mel wanted to be in the movie but the Studio said no), Andrew Bergman and Norman Steinberg. 93 minutes rated R. Some language, and entire scenes are cut for TV showings. The Family Channel showed the (beans-eating) campfire scene with the sound turned off. Additional cast: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Alex Karras (who punches out a horse), Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman, Liam Dunn, Carol Arthur, Dom DeLuise, Robert Ridgely, George Furth, and a bunch of Nazis (a chase scene goes thru adjoining movie sets, including one apparently filming the "Springtime For Hitler" scene). And later, when Mel Brooks noticed that Kevin Costner wasn't bothering to do an English accent in "Robin Hood," the result was Mel's spoof movie Robin Hood, Men In Tights
Quotes & Trivia (Courtesy of the Internet Movie Database)
Friedrich arrives at the Transylvania station
Dr. Friedrich von Frankenstein: Pardon me, boy. Is this the Transylvania station?
Shoe-Shine Boy: Ja, ja. Track 29. Can I give you a shine?

* The film was shot in the same castle and with the same props and lab equipment as the original Frankenstein (1931).
* The howling wolf sound on the ride to the castle was made by Mel Brooks himself
* When Victor finds his grandfather's private library, he finds a book titled "How I Did It." This is actually a joke for those people who have read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In the book, Frankenstein, Shelley never reveals how Victor reanimated dead flesh. The screenwriter obviously knew this and inserts the "How I Did It" book as a joke.
* When Dr. Frankenstein descends the stairs into the basement of the castle there is a gargoyle on the wall made to look like director Brooks
* The assistant property master's name, Charles Sertin, is on the third brain on the shelf.
* The clock rings 13 times at the beginning of the film.
* The idea of Frederick's dart hitting a cat was ad-libbed on set. When Gene Wilder threw his dart off camera, director Mel Brooks quickly screamed like a cat to create the illusion.
* A couple who are talking on the train near the beginning of the film are having the same conversation in English, then in German.
* Teri Garr, who plays Inga, was called in when Madeline Kahn, whom Mel Brooks had originally wanted for the role, turned it down and asked if she could play Elizabeth instead. Madeline Khan decided to take the role after all, so Mel Brooks told her that if Garr could come back the next day with a German accent, he'd like her for Inga. She looked at Mel and said, "Vell, yes, I could do zee German ackzent tomorrow - I could come back zis afternoon" and the part was hers.
* The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes in order to continue shooting.
* The scene in which the creature contemplates throwing the little girl into the lake ("No more flowers. What shall we throw in now?"), is a homage to a scene in the 1931 film version of Frankenstein. In the 1931 version, this was censored from the film until its video release 50 years later.
* The shot of the monster carrying Elizabeth in the woods is a subtle reference to a similar shot in "Creature From the Black Lagoon" (1954).
* The original cut of the movie was almost twice as long and was considered by all involved to be an abysmal failure. It was only after a marathon cutting session that they produced the final cut of the film, which both Wilder and Brooks considered to be far superior to the original product. At one point they noted that for every joke that worked, there were three that fell flat. So they went in and trimmed all the jokes that didn't work.
* Igor's saying of "Walk this way" in the film inspired Aerosmith's 1975 hit "Walk this Way".
* When the monster is being brought back to life, the area around his eyes (and what appears to be his teeth) begin to glow. This was done with a plastic head created to look exactly like that of Peter Boyle. Some fake teeth, fake brain tissue, and a light were used to create the effect.
* Due to make-up continuity problems, certain shots in "The Blind Man" scene had to be re-shot. In the shot where The Blind Man spills soup on the Monster, the "Hand" spilling the soup actually belongs to Director Mel Brooks, not Gene Hackman.
* Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman appear together in this film by virtue of the fact that their mutual agent had a deal with the movie studio.
* When they started to film the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene, no one was sure what the Creature should say. The first time out of the gate, however, Boyle came up with a strangled version of "Puiinin da reeez!"
* The Blind Man's line "I was gonna make espresso" was not in the script, but was ad-libbed by Gene Hackman during shooting.
* The Gausthaus, or guest house at the beginning of the riot scene is Gausthaus Gruskoff. Michael Gruskoff was the producer of the film.
* Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks frequently got into arguments on set. On one occassion, Mel threw a huge temper tantrum, yelling and raging and eventually storming out of the studio. Shortly thereafter, Gene received a phone call from Mel, saying, "Who was that lunatic yelling and screaming on the set today? You should fire that bum!"
* The experiment the medical student mentions, where Darwin preserved a worm in fluid until it came to life, is mentioned in Mary Shelley's foreword to the novel "Frankenstein". The Darwin in question was Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the famous Charles Darwin.

The Making of Young Frankenstein (courtesy American Movie Classics


Young Frankenstein, The Making Of
(click twice to play video)

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Put the candle back.

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