In early 1970 Gene Wilder had an idea for a script that would spoof the classic Jeckle and Hyde movies. It was a character he always wanted to play and he thought a comic version would be not only challenging but well received if done right. When he approached Mel Brooks about the idea, Brooks too had been working on a horror movie parody, but this one concerned it self with The Wolfman. Neither one budged, They haggled, re wrote, argued, tore their collective hair out, and stopped talked for almost 6 moths, This was the marriage that was to create one of the greatest comic films of the 20th century: “Young Frankenstein.”
Concerning itself with a descendant of the original horror monger Baron Von Frankenstein, his great, great, great grandson is approached by a creepy guy with long fingers to “take up where he left off.” On the way, Frederick falls in love with his saucy assistant, departs from his frigid and glamorous fiancée, and begins, along with his assistant Igor, and the ominous house mistress Frau Bleucher, to reinstate his birthright. Eventually giving birth to a new Creation.
The film, edited by ….. and filmed in glorious black and white has a stunning visual to it. Brooks may have saved quite a lot of money without bowing to Technicolor, but made up for it by buying many of the original artifacts from the Frankenstein set. Most of the machinery seen in the movie was seen in the 1939 version. Brooks especially went after:
“…the spirally thing that shoots light up in the air.”
This helped give the film not only it’s originality, but it’s authenticity as well. It’s literally shot like a true horror film. The long shots, the wide camera angles. Even the moment of Frau Bluecher’s entrance is done in old movie horror style: creaking door, shadows thrown behind Leachman’s face, and a long sound of strings ringing in our ears letting us know something frightening is happening. This not only adds to the comedy, it enhances it.
Brooks and the cast got along so well, he actually added scenes at the end of filming because the cast couldn’t stand the fact that the experience was actually over. When Madeline Kahn is discovered coming out of the carriage, they were suppose to complete the scene in one rolling shot. Because the cast couldn’t keep it together, the scene is cut up into almost 8 or 9 different takes.
This was due to Brook’s and Wilder’s vision that they not only remain true to Shelly’s original story but to the absolute silliness that ensued as well. He allowed improvisation to a point, but was meticulous about sticking to the vision and to the homage that was the original idea.
The “Putting on the Ritz: number was, in fact, Wilders idea. Brooks actually wanted to cut it, deeming it “too silly” for the film. They went into another famous fight, and Wilder (thankfully) won.
Brooks is all over this film. It’s Mel at his zenith. His direction is deft, bawdy and careful, yet there’s a brilliant playfulness to it. And I think, a bow to horror movies in a way never captured again. He never seems to comment on what’s happening, simply letting the over the top comedy land right in our laps.
Kahn’s singing of “Oh Sweet Mystery” was her idea. Brook’s needed something as The Creature climbed atop her, and as rehearsals went on, Kahn tried several different things. As the cameras rolled, on the first take, Madeline tried something completely different, and sang a part of the score in her beautiful falsetto. It was left in, and then copied at the end of the movie by Garr as well.
Brooks’s genius is his love of the genre and his love for actors, and it shows in every frame of this film.
Kenneth Mars as the Superintendent gets little credit for his odd, bizarre and one armed role here. His accent is complete and utter insanity and his physicality is magnificent. The way he uses his arm as not only a prop but a living, breathing sound effect is a comic wonder. He never ceases to amaze me. His comedy is precise and amazing.
I love Marty Feldman. One of those actors that again, like Mars, people recognize but can’t name. Feldman worked for years in films and on television, and because of his odd looks, was usually cast as the second banana. As “Igor” (pronounced EYE-gor) he is a muddled, scatter brained living sight gag. His bizarre rendition of “I Aint Got Nobody” is fall down funny.
Brooks had an idea that he wanted to literally spoof several actual classic scenes from the original “Frankenstein”. One of them included a moment between a blind man and The Creature. He called his friend Gene Hackman and begged him to appear. After reading the script and watching some of the rushes, Hackman agreed wholeheartedly In fact, he wanted to be buried so far into his character, that he doesn’t receive star screen credit. Hackman's knack for comedy is abundant in this 10 minute scene as he feels Boyle’s massive chest and whispers:
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were a mute. And incredibly big mute.”
Terri Garr’s first scene in this film is a moment of comic gold “Vould you like a roll in ze hay?”….and she begins to roll. In the hay. Garr, an Oscar nominee for her fantastic turn in “Tootsie” is a blonde tidal wave here. Never giving into what’s easy, and always staying true to who she is on screen. She has a lovely, lithe ability to her and her comedy is the same. Wonderfully funny and at the same time, a little heart breaking at times as well.
Garr says she copied her hairdresser for the oddly German/Swedish accent she used in the film.
Cloris Leachman (and Oscar winner for her sardonic and bleak portrayal in “Last Picture Show”) reaches new heights of comic genius as the weirdly omnipresent Frau Bleucher. Her taught, starched updo, her lips perched on an eternal “Oh” sound, a smear of red lipstick, and a large black mole that creeps up her face in different scenes. In her twisted, oblique German accent, Leachman seems to be hiding something. Up her skirt. She seems constantly in pain, and always hanging on to something prickly. Her eyes dart, her hands lay flat at her side, and everything that comes out of her mouth seems like it’s from other movie. An amazing astonishing performance.
I still can’t understand how Kahn wasn’t nominated for this role. She’s excellent in everything she does as a rule, but here, she shines. Her lovely soprano and her fearlessness as an actor are in abundance. There’s never a moment when I don’t believe her. There’s never a moment on screen where it’s impossible to not look at her. Her ability to turn two simple lines into comic gold are completely and utterly hers:
Peter Boyle, who found television success on “Everybody Loves Raymond” was padded, booted, and dentured into a living stupor. Most of the time throughout the film he either grunts or moos like a sick cow. A sparkling and hilarious role thanks to Boyle’s unbelievable comedy.
Wilder’s always good. Here, as writer and star, he is maniacal, frenetic, and completely insane. Consider his brilliant monologue as the Creature is lifted toward the dark sky with Wilder sanding on the side board ranting and raving into the Heavens about Life. This is Shakespearean in its delivery and hilarious in its motivation. He is never off his mark here. Again, the Academy’s prejudice toward comedy is in abundance, Wilder should have easily gotten an Oscar nomination for this role. He’s that good.
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 director Mel Brooks.
When Dr. Frankenstein descends the stairs into the basement of the castle there is a gargoyle on the wall made to look like director Mel 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.
Director Cameo: [Mel Brooks] the sound of the off-screen cat screaming when hit by a dart.
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 Kahn 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 skulls that Freddy and Inga find under the castle were real skulls except for the one that was six months dead, which was hand-crafted.
The Blind Man scene includes parts where we see the monster having hot soup poured on him and getting his thumb lit on fire. To keep himself protected, Peter Boyle had a hot pad on his lap, and he wore something on his thumb to protect it from getting burnt.
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 Frankenstein (1931). In that version, this was cut 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.
The original cut of the movie was almost twice as long as the final cut, and it 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 Gene Wilder and Mel 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.
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.
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 Gasthaus, or guest house at the beginning of the riot scene is Gasthaus Gruskoff. Michael Gruskoff was the producer of the film.
Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks got into only one fight during the movie's production, but it was a big one with Mel throwing 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 brain originally intended for the monster was that of Hans Delbruck. Hans Delbruck was an actual person, a German historian, professor at the University of Berlin, notable for going beyond technical problems and linking warfare to politics and economics.
Originally in the script, after Igor drops the brain jar, he was to turn to the audience and quip: "Funny thing is, I tried!"
Director Cameo: [Mel Brooks] the voice of the original Dr. Frankenstein when Frederick sees the laboratory for the first time.
The shifting hump on Igor's back was an ad-libbed gag of Marty Feldman's. He had surreptitiously been shifting the hump back and forth for several days when cast members finally noticed. It was then added to the script.
Gene Wilder's performance as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is ranked #9 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
Mel Brooks initially thought that the "Walk this way" gag was too corny and wanted it cut from the film. But, when he saw the audience's reaction to it one night at a screening, he decided to leave it in.
I remember seeing this film when it came out. My Dad took me. It was one of the few things we actually did together, and I remember watching it and not understanding a single thing. I knew it was funny, and I remember laughing occasionally at some of the silliness (Leachman killed me) but my Dad…I’ll never forget the sight of my Dad literally slapping his knee and tilting back in his chair. His big guffaw mingling with the rest of the adults in the audience. But to see my father so ultimately happy and so filled with a raucous joy was something I’ll never ever forget.
“My father’s work was Doo Doo!” actually became a catch phrase in our family after that.
Later, as I got older, and I understood what I was looking at, I still, to this day, find myself slapping my knee and leaning back in whatever chair I happen to be in at the moment.
A classic film and one of the best comedies ever made.