Thursday, October 22, 2009

“But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself.”

After that…enlightening excursion to the 21st century, we return to the 20th because we’re not done with Frankenstein. Not by a long shot. 1974 threw Frankenstein into the loving comedy embrace of Mel Brooks. Should be a great way to burn away foggy residue of the previous movie.

An American scientist receives word from a German visitor that he has inherited his family estate of Castle Frankenstein in Transylvania. Somewhat reluctantly, the young Frankenstein (dun, dun, DUN!) travels to Transylvania where he encounters a hunchback and attractive woman as his support staff, then discovers his grandfather Victor’s notes. Resolved to follow in his grandfather’s bootshteps bootsteps in the name of SCIENCE, he begins his fateful journey into Mad Science. Hilarity ensues for 106 minutes.

Frederick Frankenstein/Fronkensteen: Gene Wilder turns in a fantastic role as the young Frankenstein (dun, dun, DUN!) who wouldn’t be out of place in a regular Frankenstein sequel. Torn between scientific ambitions and other obligations, he’s our Hero and essentially the straight man to a lot of the comedic antics. Wilder’s great, what with being able to switch rapidly between sane and ranting, and his comedic timing is just spot on.

The Monster: Peter Boyle is the Monster/Creature. He doesn’t show up until about halfway through, but when he does its great. Under a lot of makeup (that includes several zippers, including one on his neck) he really plays with the childlike intelligence and quick rages common in these films. He certainly looks the part for a big monster, but he’s also really, really sympathetic when he starts making infantile whimpers and whines. He gets a crowning moment of awesome during the musical number, because if anything can help make the Monster classy, it’s a tux and top hat. Uttin’ on uh riiiizzzz, indeed.

Igor (pronounced Eye-Gore): Marty Feldman plays the scene stealing henchman with a wandering eye (and hump). He’s basically the funny guy to Wilder’s straight man, and he just hams it up gloriously, frequently breaking the fourth wall and mugging to the audience. Not only that, he’s also the henchman seen this month with the biggest self-preservation instinct. He’ll point out the dangerous looking electrical switches, but he’ll be damned before he switches them on not knowing what they’ll do. The film’s biggest comedic badass.

Inga: Teri Garr is great as Frankenstein’s beautiful blonde assistant who starts falling in love with him. Speaking in a hilarious German accent, she’s more or less the middle character between Frankenstein’s seriousness and Igor’s zaniness.

Frau Blücher [horses whinny]: Cloris Leachman hams it up incredibly as the mysterious caretaker of Castle Frankenstein who lures Frederick to his grandfather’s private study. And yes, the running gag that happens whenever anyone says Blücher [horses whinny] is both brilliantly done and not played out past its effectiveness.

Elizabeth: Madeline Kahn is great as always as Frederick’s prudish fiancée. The resulting love triangle gets only slightly complicated as the Monster abducts her soon after her arrival in Transylvania.

Inspector Kemp: Kenneth Mars is the runner up for badass of the film as the badly mutilated police inspector that is totally lifted from Inspector Krogh, right down to the fake right arm and constantly shifting accent. Except here its turned up to eleven. He ends up spearheading the inevitable angry mob (quite literally).

Blindman: Gene Hackman in a very small cameo under a big wig that makes it hard to realize its him. The whole scene he’s in is an outstanding parody of the hermit scene in Bride of Frankenstein.

Mel Brooks = Good Director. Nothing new there, but visually the movie is tremendously faithful to capturing the old school look and feel of the black and white monster movies. Hell, most of the lab equipment props were those used in the original Frankenstein. Sight gags are great, camera angles are completely appropriate and even iconic, and the whole visual look has a flow and energy that’s infectious.

The Story and script by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks is outstanding (it was slightly more Wilder’s baby than Brooks’), both in that it’s a fantastic parody of horror films, but can also stand on its own as legitimate Frankenstein movie. The plot would totally work as a normal sequel to the series, and that’s really where the strengths of the story lie. The movie knows exactly when to play everything completely straight and without gags to sell the mythos its trying to build. The lightning storm reanimation features a great Mad Scientist speech by Wilder and then a dramatic, totally serious moment where the creature is infused with life. The punch line only happens several minutes later after the major moment is passed (and works great), but again, the movie pays homage to the most truly iconic elements of the Frankenstein series, lifting a lot of scenes and characters from previous films. The little girl, the shot of Frankenstein telling Igor to get his head down at the cemetery gates, and the scene where Igor gets “Abby Normal’s” brain are all from Frankenstein, the hermit, Elizabeth’s name (also in the first film), haircut and hiss at the end are from Bride, Igor’s name, the Monster being directed by music and the Inspector are all lifted from Son of, and the brain swapping plot point and even the enormous (door) knockers are from Ghost Of. Wilder & Brooks did their freakin’ homework on this one but also made it their own, and it shows in the overall quality.

John Morris turns in probably the most iconic Frankenstein soundtrack since Bride of. There is one theme that is constantly repeated throughout in various permutations according to the mood of the scene; a sweeping, somewhat gypsy-like and moody piece that’s just great. And there’s also that “Puttin’ on the Ritz” musical number that’s just awesome in its absurd inventiveness.

Young Frankenstein is top tier Mel Brooks we’re dealing with here. A fantastic cast, rock solid direction and a greased lightning slick plot and pacing unanimously click to make a hilarious monster movie that’s also incredibly faithful and respectful of the genre it pokes with a stick. This is parody at its finest.

Blücher [horses whinny]

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