I get a little fastidious when it comes to many things (seriously, watch me reheat shredded pork tacos sometime if you want to test that statement). One of the top areas where I am very picky about certain distinctions is when someone asks me what my favorite movie is. I will always respond with “Favorite? Or Best?” It matters and the answer is different. (For the record, the best movie of all time is The Godfather but my favorite is Blazing Saddles.) The recent passing of Cloris Leachman had me thinking of one of my all-time favorites (actually in a 6-way tie for my 9th favorite movie): Young Frankenstein (1974, dir. Mel Brooks).
Young Frankenstein is a delightful concept wherein we meet Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder in the best performance of his amazing career). (Also anyone who has seen this film knows how to pronounce that name in this case.) He is the grandson of the more famous Victor Frankenstein, who worked on the seemingly impossible task of trying to reanimate dead human tissue. Frederick has some difficulty distancing himself from the work of his illustrious grandfather as he tries to make his own scientific advances. Frederick is called away to Transylvania effectively on a probate matter (get your estate plans in order, people! See? Any movie can tie into the world of financial planning.) and we meet a typical Mel Brooks cast of fantastic supporting characters including Igor (Marty Feldman), Inga (Teri Garr), Frau Blucher (Leachman), and Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars). Frederick eventually goes down a predictable path of taking up his grandfather’s experiment and a horror movie spoof ensues.
When Mel Brooks is on top of his game, as he most certainly is here, the result is a movie re-watching experience wherein you say to yourself, “Oh, this is my favorite part” a dozen times or more. If you are a fan of this film, you are no doubt thinking of your favorites right now and Pavlovian responses to things like “Frau Blucher!” (neigh) and “Would you like to have a roll in zee hay?” spring to mind with great happiness. Personally, I cannot watch this movie without laughing uncontrollably despite having seen it probably 25 times. Gene Hackman as the blind hermit with Peter Boyle as the monster is possibly the funniest scene in movie history – with the possible exception of the Puttin’ on the Ritz sequence. Madeline Kahn doing Madeline Kahn things is a sight to behold. Abby Normal. Wasn’t your hump on the other side? What hump? He vas my boyfriend! Sedagive?!? Frederick trying to reason with the monster. Kemp playing darts. And on and on and on. Every bit of it holds up despite all the copycats to the spoof genre (and specifically the horror spoof genre) that have come since.
As we continue to grow weary with shutdowns and political divides and whatever is happening with Gamestop, do yourself a favor and relax into the classics. They do not get any more classic than Young Frankenstein. And if you must only consider it to honor Cloris Leachman – a legendary character actress who you may not know has an Oscar for The Last Picture Show and is tied wit Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the most Emmy Awards in history – then let that be the reason. I promise you will make a yummy sound watching this one.
FUN FACT – The famous Puttin’ on the Ritz scene almost did not make the final cut. Mel Brooks thought it too outlandish to include, which prompted Gene Wilder (who co-wrote the film with Brooks) to fly off the handle in a passionate plea to keep it. Brooks calmly explained that if Wilder would fight that hard for it, then it was worth keeping. Thankfully, that is exactly what happened.
Just Watch says that Young Frankenstein is only available to stream on Starz or DirecTV. It does not list any other options, though I would imagine most libraries that deal in movies will have a copy. If not – buy it. It’s worth it and you’ll watch it over and over.