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.'"

Young Frankenstein was more than a hit. It is a comic masterpiece.
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.'

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.

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.
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.

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

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.
posted by filthy light thief (77 comments total) 203 users marked this as a favorite
This was the first movie I saw with just me and my older brother - no parent or adult. I guess I was about 8, and I was a-scared of it even though it's funny.
posted by thelonius at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by eriko at 4:15 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

I attended on the first day of release, in Westwood, CA. It was electric in that theater, and the loudest cheer, in the opening credits, was for Mel Brooks as director.
posted by Danf at 4:24 PM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

Epic post.
Rather than just sharing my favorite quotes (and "sedagive" is already taken), I do want to recommend that people also watch Bride of Frankenstein if they haven't seen it. It's a great complement to Young Frankenstein, which I agree is Brooks' best.
posted by uosuaq at 4:29 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's important shit in everyone's lives, going back through our tens of thousands of years of individual experience. I am honored to have lived in a time when the important shit in my life includes this movie, and as I've suggested before, "Civilization peaked with the release of Blazing Saddles, and it's been all downhill from there."
posted by mikelieman at 4:31 PM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

This movie is full of favorite moments but I literally fell out of my seat from laughing so hard during the seesaw scene with the monster and the little girl.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:34 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"'Young Frankenstein,'" he said, is "by far the best movie I ever made. Not the funniest — 'Blazing Saddles' was the funniest..."

He's wrong.

Young Frankenstein is funnier.
posted by zompist at 4:42 PM on December 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

I saw it when it came out with a group of kids for one of theirs tenth birthday at the State Theater in Boonton, NJ. No idea how I remember that.
posted by octothorpe at 4:44 PM on December 20, 2014

Nope, Blazing Saddles is the funniest movie he ever made, possibly the funniest American movie ever.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:44 PM on December 20, 2014 [17 favorites]

Some of Brooks' films don't hold up quite as well now as they did when I was young -- Spaceballs I'm looking at you! -- but Young Frankenstein is an all-time classic. Gene Wilder is just so amazing in this that it makes me so sad that he's had so little work over the last 25 years.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:47 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Goddamnit Marty Feldman.

"Say nothing, act casual..."
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:48 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

the bricabrac:

Brooks on that:

"'Young Frankenstein,'" he said, is "by far the best movie I ever made. Not the funniest — 'Blazing Saddles' was the funniest, and hot on its heels would be 'The Producers.' But as a writer-director, it is by far my finest."
posted by jscalzi at 4:50 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can only favorite this post once! I love Mel Brooks and this is my favorite film of his.
posted by dougzilla at 4:51 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Gene Wilder is just so amazing in this that it makes me so sad that he's had so little work over the last 25 years.

For the record, he says it's by choice:
Would you return to acting if the right project came along?
I’m tired of watching the bombing, shooting, killing, swearing and 3-D. I get 52 movies a year sent to me, and maybe there are three good [ones]. That’s why I went into writing. It’s not that I wouldn’t act again. I’d say, “Give me the script. If it’s something wonderful, I’ll do it.” But I don’t get anything like that.
posted by Etrigan at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

There are so many lines from this film that are quoted around our house, but "Right here? Now, Doctor!?" is the one that is probably the most frequent. Well, maybe that and "Abbie... something."

Wait, wait, Hackman's melancholic, "I was going to make espresso..."

Such a fantastic film. (And a great post, thanks!)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:00 PM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

"You know, I don't mean to embarrass you, but I'm a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I can help you with that hump."


"What hump?"
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:01 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

(The Marty Feldman bits are my favorite - pretty much made for the role.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:02 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also: big ups to Teri Garr - she is amazingly good in this comedic role.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:05 PM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

"There wolf. There castle."
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Mel Brooks has made more than a few great movies, but Young Frankenstein is obviously his best movie qua movie. Everyone involved should live forever. RIP Madeline Kahn.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I saw this movie in the theater, with my parents. I was 5 or 6. It was a little scary in spots, I'm not sure I'd let a 5 or 6 year old kid watch it now, but even I knew it was fucking hilarious. One of the formative films of my childhood.

Mel Brooks is a national treasure.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Pardon me boy, is that the Transylvania Choo-Choo?"
posted by eriko at 5:26 PM on December 20, 2014

Um, he has 11 fingers?

Mel Brooks brought an extra finger to his Hollywood handprint ceremony

"I wanted to do something just a little different, I didn't know what," he told Conan O'Brien. "So I got another finger."
posted by filthy light thief at 5:31 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of the joys of my family is my parents introduced us to Mel Brooks and Tom Lehrer when we were young.

Indeed, we went to the drive in to see Star Wars, but it was full, so my parents took us to the other film - "Blazing Saddles."
posted by eriko at 5:33 PM on December 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

One of my favorite movies of all time. It's usually hard to find it on streaming services but it's on HBO GO through January, if you have that.
posted by dfan at 5:36 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


* i.e. entirely coincidentally and serendipitously
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:40 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm all about MK's singing during the sex scene. And the beginning where they do the bit on how to pronounce Frankenstein. And everything else. One of the best movies out there.

This was miles better than Blazing Saddles. All I remember how BS is the stupid, endless, fart scene. Then again I was grown when I saw that scene, not a 12-yr old boy; it wasn't funny to me. I may have stopped watching at that point.

The last thing I remember Gene doing was a truly awful sitcom where he was dad to twins. I'm glad he stopped taking scripts if that's the best they could give him.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 6:19 PM on December 20, 2014

I saw this in a theater when I was nine. There was a short silent film shown before the movie where first a man, then a woman, stopping to skinny dip on a hot day have their clothes and bicycles stolen by a crazy looking cackling guy. They form an alliance and start down the road naked and dive into the brush as a car comes by.

A double bass falls out of the car as it passes. The naked couple remove the instrument from its case and the woman gets in. Chivalrously, the man begins carrying the case down the road until the car comes back and he jumps into the woods again. The musicians retrieve the case and take it to their concert...

I got hit in the back of the head by a set of false teeth.

Anyone know what I am talking about? I know this sounds more like Monte Python. I have never been able to find it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:28 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

♫♪ When you're blue / And you don't know
Where to go to / Why don't you go
♫♪Where fashion sits... ♫♪

(*music breaks*)

posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

Madeline Kahn is everything I ever wanted to be when I grew up, and this movie is a treasure.

Time for (another) rewatch!
posted by Space Kitty at 6:42 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

oh god i thought this was an obit post and almost had An Outburst
posted by poffin boffin at 6:44 PM on December 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

About twenty years ago, a friend of mine and I -- both drunk, both recently and spectacularly dumped by our respective girlfriends -- were trying to crash in a sweltering apartment on a truly miserable summer night, just everything was going wrong, and I found this on TV. My friend had never seen it, and immediately started railing about some cheesy bullshit movie that blah blah blah and then the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene came on and dude just lost it. Miraculous properties!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:47 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mr Yuck: I used the googles, and they said the answer is Romance with a Double Bass. (Though you probably saw the 1911 version if it was a silent).
posted by fings at 6:53 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

The opening night of the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz in 2007 started with a montage of movie clips and other ephemera relevant to to the theater and the event. Extended snippets of the "Putting on the Ritz"'sequence were included. The audience watched appreciatively during the parts were Gene Wilder sang; unprompted, we sang along at the top of our lungs along with Peter Boyle during his lines.
posted by Ranucci at 6:54 PM on December 20, 2014

Walk this way!

I love how much it looks and especially sounds like a much older movie (my ask.mefi q on the topic)
posted by moonmilk at 7:06 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

“There's a lot of sexy innuendo. I don't know if Mary Shelley would be so happy…”

Given Mary Shelley’s not entirely traditional life in general, and more particularly the circumstances in which she wrote Frankenstein, I very much doubt she would be flustered by sexy innuendo.
posted by El Mariachi at 7:09 PM on December 20, 2014 [23 favorites]

Thanks fings. Seems like what I saw was a parody of that. Much shorter and we were on vacation in Canada. Full frontal nudity and all.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:11 PM on December 20, 2014

Never mind, I think that is it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:18 PM on December 20, 2014

Inspector Kemp lighting his cigarette in the the funniest damn thing I have ever seen. This movie has kept me laughing for decades. Thanks for the memories, filthy light thief.
posted by Fibognocchi at 7:18 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

My wife thought it was weird that my first ever crush was on Madeline Kahn.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:23 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry to double up, but just remembered "My grandfather's work was doo-doo!" Still makes me laugh til I'm weak.
posted by Fibognocchi at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did you grab the brain labelled Abby Normal???
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2014

I have not seen this movie in at least 20 years, and it's time to fix that.

Teri Garr is so hot in this, too.
posted by maxwelton at 7:27 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Not 30 minutes ago my daughter said something about Ovaltine, which caused several jokes as we were driving along. It's a touchstone in our household.

As an aside, after the last time we saw it (the day before Halloween this year in an actual theater packed with people), we realized that Inspector Kemp sounded just like Otto from the later seasons of Malcolm in the Middle. I don't know how I never realized it, but yeah, that's Kenneth Mars. So both he and Cloris Leachman had roles in that show.
posted by Ickster at 7:29 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

'Socks and poo poo undies' will always make me laugh because I will always be 9 years old in my heart.
posted by h00py at 7:30 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

When there was that report a month or two ago about brains being stolen from a Texas university my wife immediately said, "Abby Normal".
posted by Ber at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

"Yes! He vass...MY BOYFRIEND!" [organ sting]

Fine film. Fine film.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:55 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

posted by briank at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

"What knockers!"
posted by cazoo at 8:11 PM on December 20, 2014

> it's on HBO GO through January

Bless you! /watching right this very minute thankyouverymuchindeed!
posted by rtha at 8:16 PM on December 20, 2014

Looking back, I cannot believe that when this first came out, I was disappointed by it because it wasn't a punchline a minute slapstick romp like Blazing Saddles. I was a kid, what did I know?

But Blazing Saddles really... really hasn't aged very well, while this movie just gets better and better.
posted by Naberius at 8:21 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have seen this movie more times than I can count, and it really does get better over time. I used to think Blazing Saddles was funnier on a laff-by-laff basis, but it's true, it doesn't hold up. YF is just beautiful on so many levels, not the least of which is the sumptuous cinematography. The ridiculousness of the dialogue in that super-serious setting makes me cry laughing every time.

And it really does worm its way into our collective lexicon. My husband and I were making dinner the other night, and I don't even remember what I said, but he replied, "It could be worse. It could be raining." I still will find myself humming "Ain't got no booodddyyyy," I will ask people if they want "vawm milk, peh-heps?" and we'll occasionally shout "VOOTSCHTOPS" for no reason.

Awesome post. We watched this a few weeks ago, but it's never too soon for a rewatch.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 8:38 PM on December 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Mel Brooks has committed a lot of sins as a moviemaker, but I forgive him every one of them for this movie. It's truly perfect. I can't wait till my kid is a little older and I can introduce him to it.

Blazing Saddles is good too, but it has slow spots or dumb jokes. I can't think of a single joke I would take out of Young Frankenstein. Kenneth Mars alone did something transcendent with that role.
posted by emjaybee at 8:45 PM on December 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Taffeta, darling!" is a term of endearment around here.

My favorite line from the film actually comes from a 10-second bumper ad Mel Brooks recorded for television. He simply proclaims "DON'T MISS Young Frankenstein! HE won't miss YOU!"
posted by Spatch at 9:04 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

A riot is an ugly thing.
posted by rfs at 9:10 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for this! Young Frankenstein is my all-time favorite movie. My husband and I are considering having a second kid at some point and are leaning towards Abbie as a first name if it's boy. I may push hard for Something as the middle.
posted by macrowave at 9:32 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Young Frankenstein was one of the movies the adults in our lives made sure my siblings and I had seen when we were kids. I count that as quite a fine favor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:00 PM on December 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

There wolf genius.

My wife's favourite movie, it gets quoted regularly, just yesterday was "hair, darling!".
We saw the musical a few years ago and greatly recommend it.
posted by arcticseal at 11:47 PM on December 20, 2014

I found a copy of this in a $5 DVD bin at a truck stop once. I had to take it home with me, it deserved better.
posted by jordemort at 11:54 PM on December 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

speaking of beloved national treasure Madeline Kahn, here she is in her first film appearance, 1968's De Düva.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:36 AM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had to write a paper on Young Frankenstien for my film-obsessed English teacher in high school. We read Frankenstein, watched Young Frankenstein, and then wrote papers on how Mel Brooks first created, then destroyed, the gothic, "Frankenstein" atmosphere in the film.

I remember my 1st body paragraph discussed the long pan of the coffin in the opening scene, followed by the struggle for the book between the corpse and the live man . . .
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:47 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love Mel Brooks. And I love this movie.

That said, nothing can recapture the feeling I had seeing Blazing Saddles for the first time without knowing what to expect. When it went completely off the rails at the end--was that really popcorn in Gene Wilder's hands? Cows in the lobby of the Chinese Theater? It was utter anarchy and I had never seen anything so wonderful, it was beyond funny. It felt like the best surprise ever.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:37 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Below "Young Frankenstein" written on the spine of the VHS case in my dad's handwriting, there was a smaller notation, a minute Mark for the player's counter, and the words "Puttin' on the Ritz."
posted by oneironaut at 6:22 AM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

This is the first Mel Brooks movie I ever saw, and all of his other movies had to live up to this one because of how brilliant I found it to be.
posted by TrishaLynn at 6:46 AM on December 21, 2014

He vould have an enormous schwanzstucker

Well... that..... goes without saying..
posted by Trochanter at 7:10 AM on December 21, 2014

So many good quotes from this film. My favourites have already been listed, but I just have to requote one:

"There wolf. There castle."

The first song my surf band ever wrote started with a sample of that. I believe it was a precondition of our founding bassist for getting involved in the project - he sat the rest of us down to watch it with us before the first time we jammed together. I'll have to see if I remember how it went - we never recorded it, sadly.
posted by Dysk at 8:43 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Destiny! Destiny!

This is a common refrain around these parts...As is "You ver havink a nachtmere!"
posted by readymade at 12:45 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

How good is Young Frankenstein? Every time I watch it, my favorite line or scene changes.
posted by EatTheWeek at 2:43 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The darts scene.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:41 PM on December 21, 2014

I took my best friend from childhood out to see this during my first Christmas break in college. He grew up in a very conservative family and had never set foot in a movie theater, but was now living on his own, and we determined this would be his very first theatrical movie. To this day I don't think he's quite forgiven me, but he did laugh in most of the right places.
posted by lhauser at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2014

Reading this post out loud to my husband went something like this: "Did you know Young Frankenstein -- I mean, 'Frahn-ken-steen' -- is 40 years old?"
posted by _Mona_ at 9:13 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a good thing, Dysk.
You should never record anything based on a Mel Brooks film sadly.
posted by evilDoug at 12:07 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fantastic movie, and a fantastic post, flt. You gave this creation life! LIFE!!!
posted by Gelatin at 9:50 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The darts scene.

Featuring Mel Brooks' cameo, of a sorts: If memory serves me correctly, he improvised the cat's screech.
posted by Gelatin at 9:59 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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