Director: Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman
Hallo. Vould you like to have a roll in ze hay?
Yes, I'm going to keep this Frankenstein train rolling. We're going off canon here, but I think this wouldn't be complete without touching upon the Gene Wilder / Mel Brooks team up from 1974 for just a second. The parody film is one of the most successful of Frankenstein entries in the history of film. The movie garnered large box office and critical acclaim. It also impacted the lore and legend of people's memories of the Frankenstein series, making people believe things that weren't a part of the Universal films Importantly, the film has had a tremendous 41 year legacy, still giving audiences belly laughs today and considered one of the greatest comedy films ever made.
Gene Wilder was the brain child of the film. Its a passion project of his and mainly his creation even though legendary comedy film director Mel Brooks has his name stapled to it. This is also the only film of the director's that he doesn't "obviously" appear in. Wilder was so animate that this film carry a certain tone and feel and felt Brooks was good in his films, but constantly broke the fourth wall even when he wasn't trying. Wilder cultivated the movie as if it was the fifth film in the Frankenstein series following Ghost of Frankenstein. And while the film is built upon parodying elements from those first four films, it still works in that fashion.
Gene Wilder was a terrific presence back in the day. While he played a wonderfully wacky bunch of characters, no two were the same. Here in Young Frankenstein...ahem FronkenSTEEN, he 's all in and gives quite the performance of a descent into madness. He's also one who isn't afraid to let his co-stars steal some scenes and chew scenery all for the good of the show. Marty Feldman proves to be just that, winding up being what people think of when it comes Frankenstein's assistant instead of what really was in the Universal films. Madeline Kahn brings her excellence once again as she was very well known for. She's a true comedic genius in her own right. Cloris Leachman also dazzles here as Frau Blucher. And I must say this is a "swoon" role for me for the lovely Teri Garr and she is dorkily charming in the role of Inga and sells her comedy without being overtly ridiculous, even with the accent.
Peter Boyle plays the monster and he's pretty damn good at it. An actor of his stature taking this part shows me that the guy seemingly is up for anything and has a good time. This is different a different Peter Boyle than the one who seemingly passed on Popeye Doyle for The French Connection in pursuit of landing more tradition "handsome male lead" parts in films. Funny enough, Gene Hackman cameos in the film. Doyle has a comedic take on the monster, but also brings some of that humanity only Karloff seemed to be able to bring to the role back in the day. Scripts, yes, help this, but I put this on Boyle more than anything. And what a moment at the end when he speaks intelligibly. He just commands the room and wows you with that moment. Its a really good, sincere thing inside of a goofy comedy film.
Why this film works best is that its so dedicated to playing it straight. The looks, props, costumes, make-up and everything does its best to look every bit like one of the 1930s films. And the story of the film plays it pretty much straight for the full thing, sans a "Puttin' On The Ritz" here and there. The actors also play it straight, with some of the loud parts in their performances being perfectly warranted or seemingly channeling the overacting and campy quality to the older films it is trying to recreate. Yes, there are gags, but as much as this movie is making fun of things its just as much a tribute and passionate love letter to that era in horror cinema.
As legendary as the films it was parodying, Young Frankenstein will always be a comedic treasure. I'm sure maybe the day will come, or maybe its already here where it won't make sense to the youngins, but I think most of the humor here in the movie is silly enough for one not have done the homework and just know of the Universal horror films. It features outstanding turns from every cast member and the directorial work, set design, costuming and make-up are an incredible achievement. I can't sing this film enough praises and it funny enough, the one film Mel Brooks doesn't clearly appear in or have a role, wound up being his very best picture.
NEXT TIME: Yeah, still not done...