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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mel Brooks | Young Frankenstein


a roll in the hay
by Douglas Messerli

Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (screenplay), Mel Brooks (director) Young Frankenstein / 1974
 

I seldom complain about writing a review after seeing a film. Writing gathers my thoughts and helps me to better evaluate the work I’ve just seen, generally allowing me to enjoy the film than I might have without thinking about it so carefully. But no matter what I have to say about Mel Brooks’ and Gene Wilders’ comic spoof of the Frankenstein movies—scenes from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, and Ghost of Frankenstein were all brought together in his and nostalgic satire—it’s already been said by the movie itself.
       The quick-witted parody toys with everything from slapstick and vaudeville quips to bawdy innuendos and a loving tribute to Whale’s and others’ directorial styles. Brooks even used Kenneth Strickfaden’s original laboratory props from Frankenstein and dressed the hilarious Madeline Kahn in the same kind of fright wig that Elsa Lanchester wore in Bride of Frankenstein.

       About the only thing one can “evaluate,” other than to say that its great fun is to talk about the cast; but then nearly all the work’s actors—Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein  (pronounced throughout the early part of the film as "Fronkensteen" in an attempt to dissociate himself from his lunatic father); Marty Feldman as Igor (pronounced “Eye-gor,” he claims, in reaction to Frederick’s pronunciation); Madeline Kahn as the well dressed and groomed Elizabeth; Cloris Leachman as pained Frau Blücher (whose very name alarms the horses; despite the rumor, the word does not mean “glue” in German); Teri Garr as Frederick’s pretty but empty-headed assistant, Inga; Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp; Gene Hackman as the blind hermit; and Peter Boyle as the dancing monster—are all so perfect in their roles that again there’s little to be said. Mars’ rendition of Inspector Kemp is a spot-on imitation of Lionel Atwill’s character, Inspector Krogh. in Son of Frankenstein. And Kahn’s Elizabeth, particularly in the early scenes, nicely parodies Basil Rathbone’s well-dressed wife, Elsa, in the same earlier movie.  My only very slight complaint is that, at moments, Wilder seems to go a bit over the top in his displays of fear and hysteria. 
       The puns and language gaffs are certainly corny, but they’re still funny, including Inga’s reaction to a howl: “Werewolf!” and Igor’s answers “There wolf; there castle”; the adolescent joke as Frederick reacts to the large door handles “What knockers,” and Inga’s answer, “Oh thank you doctor.”; Igor’s spotting to light switches, the first of which, when switched on, early electrocutes Frederick, who responds “Damn your eyes!” and to which the pop-eyed Igor responds “Too late.” 
     The numerous sight gags are equally silly but hilarious: Frau Blücher’s insistence that Frederick and Inga stand close to her unlit candles because of treacherous staircase; the young girl whose attempt to play seesaw with monster hurls her into her own bed and into the safe arms of  relieved parents; the clumsy efforts of the blind hermit to serve soup, wine, and light up the monster’s cigar, after he plea to the monster to stay, “I was going to make espresso”; and Elizabeth’s transformation, after six and seven “quickies” with the monster, into the “Bride”—all work every time I’ve seen this film, which is now dozens of times.
     The most brilliant scene, however, is closer to the late New York “performance” of King Kong and his capturer than to any event in the Frankenstein films. Like the public display of Kong, so does Frederick attempt to show off his “monster” by ridiculously dancing with him in a rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

      John Morris’ score not merely evokes Franz Waxman’s lush score in Bride of Frankenstein, but improves on it.   
      In the end all the slapstick and satire they demonstrate cannot hide the genuine love and caring that Brooks and Wilder show to the original movies and their importance to American filmmaking. If anything, the originals were far more campy than are the puns and jokes of the 1974 reimagination.
       To say anything more would truly be “Abby Normal.”

Los Angeles, Thanksgiving Day, 2016

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