Our sidebar into essential Halloween-season viewing begins on the lighthearted side of the spectrum. We watched the legendary Mel Brooks-Gene Wilder team up exercise in having fun with the macabre, Young Frankenstein. And shoutout to Fathom Events for the perfectly timed screening that meant Annemarie’s very first exposure to was on the big screen — and we got to see a delightful intro from Mr. Mel Brooks. Huzzah.
Annemarie, start us off with your reaction. Why was Young Frankenstein entered into the Required Viewing catalog. What did you think of it? And am I the only one who thinks young Gene Wilder is a total fox?
A: First of all, Mel Brooks is like 1,000 years old and he’s more energetic than I am. Loved the insider stories from the making of the movie, and his wit is also just as intact (or more vibrant) as it was 40 years ago. Well done, Mel, well done.
The movie. Obviously, this is a classic comedy. I’d seen it appear in montages, but I’ll be honest, I thought it was about the Creature’s adolescence (totally not kidding), so I was delighted to realize it was a sequel of sorts of the Mary Shelley story. I completely get why it’s a classic. The style of comedy was unknown at the time, and jokes you’re still seeing in 2016 films were introduced here. Dick jokes are apparently a universal form of humor in this country.
Gene Wilder has a manic attractiveness, yes. I see how he’d be the object of affection from Teri Garr’s sexy assistant character. My favorite, though, has to be Igor, played brilliantly and stealing every scene by Marty Feldman.
Brooke, what was your favorite scene? Favorite character? Favorite joke? Pretend you’re the AFI for a minute. Where does this rank for you in top comedies? Go!
B: You’re asking some big questions here, AM. Call me cliche, but my favorite scene has to be the dance to “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” I’ve always loved that song, and as I mentioned before, I find Gene Wilder in this era quite foxy in this era, and never more so than when he’s singing. His voice is so comforting and expressive. And come on, who in this era had tap dancing monsters? No one.
My favorite character would have to go to Madeline Khan’s Elizabeth. In the full scope of things she’s minor, but she leaves such an impression. She has our embattled Doctor Frankenstein wrapped around her finger, until she doesn’t and we eventually get the payoff of her finding The Monster as irresistible as the good doctor once found her. It’s a classic trope that’s pretty singularly executed here. My favorite joke is a split decision. I can’t deny a chuckle at “Abby Normal” every single time I see that play out. It’s a dad joke of the highest order, kind of like my other favorite joke, the werewolf exchange from early in the film:
- Inga: Werewolf!
- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Werewolf?
- Igor: There.
- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: What?
- Igor: There, wolf. There, castle.
- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Why are you talking that way?
- Igor: I thought you wanted to.
- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, I don’t want to.
- Igor: [shrugs] Suit yourself. I’m easy.
How many comedies do I get to rank as the AFI? I need more information! I mean, no matter how many I actually get, there’s no question that Young Frankenstein is solidly in the top 20, and arguably in the top 10. Just on the ensemble alone this movie merits serious discussion. I mean, apart from the top-billed folk you still have Cloris Leachman AND Gene Hackman kicking around in minor roles. That’s not a thing that just happens.
AM, indulge us for a second, in your vision of this movie about The Monster’s adolescence, what is the plot? What was your take on this picture being shot in black and white? Do you feel compelled to watch the classic Universal Monster flick knowing what we now know about how many props and the like from that movie were used in this one?
A: Ok, first of all. AFI lists go to 100, but that’s insane. Let’s do Top 20. Where does Young Frankenstein rank in your Top 20 comedies of ALL TIME?
I can’t believe I forgot Cloris and Gene! (We’re on a first-name basis.) The thunder/horse whinny every time Cloris’s character’s name is spoken is also something that’s been replicated across the comedy world for the past 40 years or so, and it’s probably only really good when it’s the first time you’re seeing it in this film.
To your questions: I loved that it was in black and white, I cannot imagine it any other way and I’m really trying right now. It’s like how another Wilder flick from this same era, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, could only be in color, and how The Wizard of Oz simply must transition from B&W to color at the precise moment Dorothy walks outside. It would likely ruin the entire proceedings if they hadn’t been able to do that.
I actually would like to watch the original Universal flick to see how the “serious” Frankenstein showcases the same props. That was probably my favorite bit of trivia that Mel dropped on us at the Fathom event. Either that or the “phalanx of Jews” that followed him out of a meeting to ensure that he made his movie at Warner Bros. Best. Use. Of. Phalanx. EVER.
Finally, the plot about the Creature’s teenage years. It’s actually not as complicated or creative as it could be, but since the story essentially follows the Creature’s birth and his education, I figured the comedic version would be the same trajectory, with some face breakouts and prom date rejection added in. That would actually be a pretty funny movie, I think, and honestly the title “Young Frankenstein” would work perfectly for that. It’d be like how Buffy takes the horror tropes and modernizes them. This can be a side project. Unless it already exists, and in which case we could do it too, only better.
I eagerly await your Top 20 list and any other final thoughts. As a side note, I think we should 100% watch Blazing Saddles soon. I think this might be the first time in history that I’ve requested a Required Viewing, but I am fully on board the Brooks train.
B: Okay, AM, let’s pump the breaks for a hot second here. No one has time to read my entire comedy-specific list right meow, but, let’s you and I make a post about our top 25s in every genre and compare and contrast. It will be fun.
I will say this: Young Frankenstein would probably land at 15 on my list. And it probably deserves to be higher than that on a lot of merits, but as it’s my list, I’m going to allow my personal preferences, however unfounded, to run their course.
I think you’re dead on about the black and white being a key element. Every aesthetic in this movie is evocative of the classic, but it’s the use of black and white (which must have been a challenge for most people to shoot at the time, as it wasn’t really done anymore) that really places us firmly in mind of the classic that’s getting this treatment. What I loved most about Mel’s introduction was hearing in his voice and recollections how much this absolutely was a labor of love. I think that comes through in every frame, and it’s what allows the comedy to hold the timeless quality we’ve been seeing. Any final thoughts to close us out AM?
A: Fine, fine. I’ll wait (impatiently) for a Top 25 list. Mine should be entertainingly slim as it’s well-known that I haven’t even seen most of the classics. But that will be fun to put together!
One quick thought on the classic nature of the story itself. I did a deep dive already to compare Young Frankenstein to a more traditional horror version on stage, but I think it’s worth saying again that the themes of the nature of humanity, isolation and the unobtainable desires of humans are clear and present even amid the silliness and lightheartedness here. It holds up well and was even more delightful than I had imagined it would be.
Fall in Los Angeles isn’t as picturesque as it is in Transylvania, but we’re headed back there this week all the same, to watch more of the premiere season of The Hills. Stay tuned for more seriously scary Halloween goodies coming soon!