Young Frankenstein has always been one of my favorite movies.
On rainy summer afternoons I would stay in and watch the Creature Feature on TV. There were only 8 channels in the 1970s. The creatures were usually of the 1950’s sci-fi variety; giant tarantulas, Invaders from Mars, or gelatinous blobs. But sometimes they were of the 1930’s/40’s Universal horror type; Dracula, the Wolfman, or better yet…. the monster Frankenstein.
There’s no doubt that Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks loved those old Frankenstein movies too.
Columbia Pictures wasn’t happy about Brook’s desire to film Gene Wilder’s monster satire in black and white to mimic the look of the old Universal horror films. The studio tried to trick Brooks into filming on color stock, for the Peruvian audiences they said, but would switch the final print to B/W in post production. Brooks stood his ground because he knew Columbia would “screw him” – his words, not mine. When 20th Century Fox eventually bought the rights they were fine with the the director’s choice of a black and white film, 1930’s style opening credits, and scenes that fade to black.
Much of the equipment in the Frankenstein lab was built for James Wale’s Frankenstein movies by Ken Strickfaden. Brooks visited him and was delighted to find most of the pieces were stored in Strickfaden’s garage, and still worked.
Gene Wilder persuaded Brooks to skip his usual cameo, as he thought it would disrupt the tone of the film. Brooks sort of agreed, with minor cameos; he’s the voice of the howling wolves, Fredrick’s grandfather, and the shrieking cat struck by a dart. There’s also a gargoyle on the side of the castle that bears a pretty striking resemblance to the director.
It’s rumored that the scene where Young Dr. Frankenstein and Igor meet at the train station for the first time inspired the Aerosmith song, “Walk the Way”. Rumored anyway. Wilder did write the scene especially for Marty Feldman after watching him on the Dean Martin Show.
Marty routinely moved his fake hump from side to side while filming to see if anyone would notice. Not only did Mel find it hysterical, the joke was added to the movie.
Madeliene Khan was offered the role of Inga, the ditzy lab assistant, but after reading the script she decided on the part of Elizabeth, the fiancé. Brooks though she was crazy; Inga had four times the screen time. But Khan masterfully turns every minute of Elizabeth into comedy gold.
Terry Garr (after she was booted from the part of Elizabeth) modeled her character, Inga – the lab assistant, on Cher’s hairdresser. Or rather, her wig stylist. We all know that Cher hasn’t displayed her real hair since the LBJ administration.
Kenneth Mars was offered the part of Inspector Kemp only if he agreed to wear an eye patch with a monocle over it. Obviously, he didn’t object. This was a step up from his last Brook’s film where his wardrobe was a Nazi Helmut and union suit covered in pigeon shit.
Chloris Leachman’s Frau Bluher – Contrary to popular belief, Bluher does not mean “glue’ in German, she’s just one scary bitch, who’s name alone frightens horses – garnered her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress. Leachman was even offered to reprise her role 40-plus years later in the musical stage version of the movie. Unfortunately, the musical’s run ended before she could accept.
Gene Hackman was originally uncredited, and unpaid. He offered to work for free after reading Wilder’s script, wanting to try a comedy role for a change. His line, “I was gonna make espresso!” was ad-libbed and the scene quickly fades to black to hide the crew’s laughter.
Young Frankenstein’s original run-time was twice as long as the final cut. Brooks and Wilder were tasked with reducing the footage by almost half. For every joke that worked, there were three that fell flat. (Like the record of Frederick’s grandfather’s reading his last will that gets stuck repeating, “Up yours”, over and over) Brooks was uncertain about the Puttin’ on the Ritz number, and fought viciously with Wilder who wanted to keep it in. He changed his mind the minute he heard the preview audience roaring with laughter. The biggest laugh of the movie is quite clearly the Creature’s garbled,
“Puiinin on da reeez!”
Young Frankenstein was an immediate hit, with audiences and critics, grossing $86.2 million on a mere $2.78 million budget.
It’s a rare film that manages to be equal amounts of nostalgia and irreverence.
Sadly this was the last collaboration for the team of Brooks and Wilder. Quite a loss as all three movies the pair worked on together; The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, have been added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
Haven’t seen this movie in a while? Or sadly….. never.
Do yourself a favor; pop some popcorn, curl up on the couch…. and revisit/discover this absolute gem.
and Happy Halloween.
How cool are these?
Lately I have been fascinated by the work of artist Richard Wilkinson. And not just because he makes “Star Wars Bugs”.
He does. Really he does.
Take a look at these classic Hollywood monsters rethought as insects.
Remember those clay-mation Christmas specials that the team of Rankin-Bass produced in the 60s and 70s? You know the ones; with the Heat Miser/Cold Miser or Rudolf dealing with a somewhat gay elf who dreams of being a dentist.
Yeah, those. They’ve been on TV steadily for over 50 years now.
But did y’all know that the creative team also produced a Halloween-themed feature film as well?
Mad Monster Party? debuted in theaters on March 8, 1967, just missing the mid 60’s monster mania that propelled The Munsters and The Addams Family into pop culture stardom.
The plot isn’t too different from the kinds of campy horror movies that Abbott & Costello or the Three Stooges stared in. It all centers around a weekend party being hosted by the evil Baron (Karloff), at his mansion on a Caribbean isle – The Isle of Evil. Say that real fast…….and it sounds like “I Love Evil”. Cute, right?, – where he has figured out some kind of formula that will allow him to destroy the world.
How much more child-friendly can you get?
Overall, ……… it’s not very good.
The stop-motion “Animagic”, is ……. “clunky”, ……..at best. “Animagic” is the same stop motion technique used for King Kong, Gumby and Davy and Goliath.
Did anyone else ever find it a coincidence that Davy is the only one who hears the dog talk? Just like David Berkowitz?
But I digress.
The monster’s names, most of which were copyrighted at the time, are mostly similar to the famous monsters they are supposed to represent. Here are some examples;
Luckily for the viewers, “Count Dracula”, “Dr Jeckel and Mr. Hyde” and “The Invisible Man” were all in the public domain at the time.
However, Quasimodo is refereed to as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is simply “Creature”, and the Wolfman is “The Werewolf”.
And King Kong, straight out of left field, is oddly renamed “It”.
Since the names “Dr. Frankenstein”, “The Bride of Frankenstein”, and “Frankenstein’s Monster” were obviously too costly for the producers use, they’re reassigned the names “The Baron”, “The Monster’s Mate”, and strangest of all, “Fang”. (the name Diller used to refer to her own husband in her stage routine)
But that doesn’t stop Mad Monster Party? from having certain charms.
The cast is led by Boris Karloff (one of several child-friendly projects Karloff lent his voice to in his final years, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas!). Phyllis Diller, Gale Garnett, and Allen Swift complete the cast. Karloff’s character of the Baron (aptly named Boris by the way) and his creation, The Monster – Fang, bare a charming resemblance to the actual actor. This was Karloff’s last project related to Frankenstein, the role that made him a household name, before his death just 2 years later.
Voice actor Allen Swift is truly the standout performer in this one. He voices every male character in the film, except The Barron, of course, and does spot on parodies yanked straight from old Hollywood. Our hero Felix Flankin – Jimmy Stewart. (Felix works for a pharmacist whose last name is Krankheit, German for “sickness”.) The Baron’s lackey, Yetch, is a perfect Peter Lorre. The Invisible Man – Sydney Greenstreet. And the freighter captain – Charles Laughton.
Hopefully y’all watch enough T.C.M. to not need to Google any of those actors.
The script was written by Len Korobkin and Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman. If you’re a red-blooded male somewhere around my age, you’ll probably remember Kurtzman’s comic strip “Little Annie Fanny” that ran in every issue of Playboy magazine from 1962 until about 1988.
But I digress again,
The songs are absolutely terrible. And I’m being generous here.
The all skeleton band at the banquet, Little Tibia and the Fibians, look an awful lot like the Beatles… or maybe the Rolling Stones…. or possibly even the Kinks…. only in terrible mod red wigs.
Their song, Mr. Mummy – that The Monster’s Mate and the Mummy dance to, is a terrible parody of Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.
OOOhhhh, wait. Now I get it.
The final scene is a direct take-off of one of my favorite movies, Some Like it Hot.
(If you’ve never seen Some Like it Hot, we can’t be friends.)
Not sure there’s too much more that’s memorable in this one, but it did obviously inspire Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Adam Sandler/Robert Smigel’s Hotel Transylvania. Those zombie bellhops look awfully familiar.
J.C. Leyendecker was an illustrator best know for his chiseled-featured Arrow shirt men and the elegant ladies and gentlemen in the 1920’s Kuppenheimer clothing adds.
It’s hard to believe that he also created this all too creepy witch, flying across the moon, for the Saturday Evening Post.
But he did.
Witches Night Out from October 1923