Halloween Movie Countdown #1 – Young Frankenstein

#1 – Young Frankenstein 1974


Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is the grandson of the mad scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein and currently working as a brain surgeon and lecturer at a medical school.  He is so ashamed of his family’s past that he inists upon pronouncing his name as “Fronk-en-steen”.  He is informed that his great grandfather, Baron von Frankenstein, has passed away, leaving Frederick as the heir to his estate in Transylvania.  He travels to Transylvania to check out his new castle where he meets the Frankenstein family’s hunchbacked servant, Igor (Marty Feldman), and his new laboratory assistant, Inga (Teri Garr).  One night, Frederick and Inga hear some mysterious music coming from somewhere within the castle.  They discover a secret passage behind ‘ze bookcase that leads to his grandfather’s secret laboratory.  He begins reading his grandfather’s private journal entitled,  “How I Did It“.  Frederick incredulously declares that “IT CAN’T WORK!”  Frederick becomes intrigued and decides to take up his grandfather’s work in the reanimation of dead tissue, despite the suspicions of the townsfolk that have experience this five times already.  Frederick decides to correct his grandfather’s error by using the genius brain of recently deceased scientist/saint Hans Delbrück.  He sends Igor to retrieve Delbrück’s brain.  Igor becomes startled by lightning, dropping the Delbrück brain.  He grabs the next best thing, a brain in a jar labeled “ABNORMAL” and returns it to Frederick, who transplants it in the corpse.

The idea for Young Frankenstein came about in a conversation between Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks as the two were wrapping up filming on Blazing Saddles In 2010, The LA Times interviewed Brooks about the film’s adaptation into a Broadway musical.  He said regarding the film’s origins:

I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said not another — we’ve had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don’t need another Frankenstein. His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, “That’s funny.”

Mel Brooks took great care in his effort at recreating the look and feel that James Whale first put on film, which led to some problems in the beginning.  He wanted to shoot the film in black and white, considering it a “sin to shoot a Frankenstein movie in color”.  However, Columbia Pictures did not believe that a black and white movie could be successful in the 1970’s.  They also didn’t want to give Brooks the slightly larger budget he wanted to complete the movie.  These problems led him to take Young Frankenstein to 20th Century Fox, who were much more cooperative with Brooks’ vision.   Young Frankenstein was shot in the same castle as the original Frankenstein and even used many of the exact same laboratory props that Brooks was able to track down.  Both Brooks and Wilder are on record as saying that Young Frankenstein is their favorite of the films they have been involved with.  Young Frankenstein was inducted into National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.  It is also listed at #13 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Films in American cinema.

I saw Young Frankenstein before I ever saw any of the movies that inspired it.  It was hilarious then.  Seeing the Frankenstein movies that it references only makes the jokes even funnier.  Crazy how that works, eh?  Of all the movies I have the urge to watch come October, Young Frankenstein has the greatest rewatchability factor for me.  I’ll often just throw it on just to have it in the background, even if I’m not able to devote my full attention to it.  It never gets old and I seem to appreciate it more and more the more times I watch it.  That is why it earns the top spot on the my list of favorite Halloween movies.


2 responses

  1. Also saw this before I saw Frankenstein, etc. I think what makes this work is that so much is part of our collective consciousness that you get the reference automatically. Same with Spaceballs. Great cast. Wilder is one of the most underrated actors ever. Love Madeline Kahn in this, will regularly say to my husband “Taffeta, darling!”. Think what makes this one really work is the humor is fairly grounded. Brooks often can often go over the top, but I think he’s more effective when he’s subtle.

  2. I agree. It certainly wouldn’t have worked as well if it had been as zany as Blazing Saddles. Thanks for visiting. Just started the blog, and it’s kind of cool to realize I’m not the only one reading this.

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