Young Frankenstein at 40: not so young, but still Brooks' finest film
December 20, 2014 4:05 PM Subscribe
Director Mel Brooks spent a lot of money on white handkerchiefs while making his 1974 tour de farce, Young Frankenstein. "I gave everybody in the crew a white handkerchief," said the 88-year-old comedy legend during a recent phone interview. "I said, 'When you feel like laughing, put this in your mouth.' Every once in a while, I'd turn around and see a sea of white handkerchiefs, and I said, 'I got a hit.'"An interview with Mel Brooks on the 40th anniversary of Young Frankenstein, with an overview of the events that lead to what Mel Brooks calls 'by far the best movie I ever made.'
Young Frankenstein was more than a hit. It is a comic masterpiece.
Depending on who's telling the story, Gene Wilder was either in his cowboy outfit on the set of Blazing Saddles or it was after his part in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (possibly NSFW, if discussions of intercourse with sheep is frowned upon - and the scene is overlaid with AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"), when Wilder was sitting in a little place in West Hampton Beach, Long Island --
I took a yellow legal pad and a blue felt pen and I wrote "Young Frankenstein" on top.Wilder was also the one behind of 'Putting on the Ritz', which Mel Brooks fought at first, then he realized Wilder's genius in the inclusion of that scene.
And then for two pages, I thought what could happen to me if I suddenly found out that I was an heir to both Beaufort von Frankenstein's whole estate in Transylvania. And I finished the two pages. I called Mel. I told him, well, I says, cute. Cute. That's all I said. And then later on that summer, Mike Medavoy, who was my agent at the time, is that anything for you and Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman? I said, what made you think of that combination? He says, because I now handle you and Peter and Marty.
I said, well, what a wonderful artistic basis. As it happened, I think I do. Send it to me. I said, no. Give me another day or two. And I wrote two more pages. The Transylvania station -- almost verbatim the way it is. And then put an ending on it.
Brooks and Wilder got their ensemble cast without too much trouble. After he gained some renown for The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (more info), Marty turned down a five-year television contract in favor of a film to be shot in black and white. Peter Boyle recalled being happy to play "the loving, tender, sweet-heart of a guy," a character who is "just misunderstood", and what it was like to work with Mel Brooks. Cloris Leachman recalled her favorite scene ("Would the doctor care for a brandy before retiring?"), and Brooks spoke highly of Madeline Kahn. "I know how crazy I can go, and she's gonna nail it." Add to the ensemble cast an early role for Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars with a monocle over an eye patch ("that's not too much"), and a cameo by Gene Hackmann, and the cast was set.
Roger Ebert gave the film four stars in 1974, writing highly of Brooks' skills as a director.
In his two best comedies, before this, “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles,” Brooks revealed a rare comic anarchy. His movies weren’t just funny, they were aggressive and subversive, making us laugh even when we really should have been offended. (Explaining this process, Brooks once loftily declared, “My movies rise below vulgarity.”) “Young Frankenstein” is as funny as we expect a Mel Brooks comedy to be, but it’s more than that: It shows artistic growth and a more sure-handed control of the material by a director who once seemed willing to do literally anything for a laugh. It’s more confident and less breathless.Ebert went on to compare Young Frankenstein with James Whale's Frankenstein (1931; full movie on Daily Motion) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935; Daily Motion), which Mel and crew captured well, as you can see in this collection of various Frankenstein movie stills (previously), in part due to the movie's use of the original 1930s Frankenstein equipment, made (and stored) by Kenneth Strickfaden.
Three decades after the release of the movie, Mel Brooks returned to the story and turned Young Frankenstein into a musical, which you can watch, in its entirety, on YouTube (audience recording from OnStage Atlanta, 08/16/2013), and you can follow along with the libretto vocal book (Scribd). Mel said of the musical: "There's a lot of sexy innuendo. I don't know if Mary Shelley would be so happy.... There's a little in the movie. There's a lot in the musical. That's what musical comedy is."
If you still haven't seen the film, or your memory his a bit hazy, you can enjoy the film edited down to 5 minutes, or you can skim through the first draft, transcribed as a .TXT file, or read through the third draft from Dec. 17, 1973 (PDF). Now that we have that out of the way, onto bonus material! Three segments from AMC's Backstory on the movie: making of Young Frankenstein, part 2 (with goofs and laughter) and part 3. You like bloopers? OK, here are 5 minutes of outtakes, with more laughter, and another 3 minutes of crack-ups! For something more serious, here are three cut scenes featuring Gene Wilder and Teri Garr on Archive.org.
An encore: Mentalfloss provides 15 fun facts for the 40th anniversary; Neatorama rounds up more factoids and anecdotes; IMDb's trivia, goofs and quotes pages for the movie; the TV Tropes page for the movie; Giphy search for Young Frankenstein clips.
And as a parting gift, five clips from Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr and producer Michael Gruskoff at the Academy's 40th Anniversary Screening of Young Frankenstein on September 10, 2014 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater: Young Frankenstein: 40 years ago; Mel Brooks on working with Gene Wilder; memories from the set; working with Marty Feldman; and favorite scenes.
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