A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, October 28, 2016

Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)

No telling how many times I've seen this blissful comedy, but I always find something new in it. This time, I was struck by Mel Brooks's musicality. There's the great "Puttin' on the Ritz" number, obviously, and Madeline Kahn bursting into an orgasm-induced rendition of "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" as Jeanette MacDonald never sang it. But the score by John Morris is wonderful on its own, as in the serenade to the monster on violin and horn played by Frederick (Gene Wilder) and Igor (Marty Feldman). And even the gag references sing: Frederick's appropriation of Mack Gordon's lyrics to "Chattanooga Choo Choo" when he arrives at the Transylvania (get it?) Station, or the supposedly virginal Elizabeth (Kahn) singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It's also surprising how little really smutty humor Brooks indulges in this time. There's Inga's (Teri Garr) appreciation of the monster's "enormous schwanzstucker," to be sure, but this is PG humor at worst. So many of the gags are just wittily anti-climactic, like Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) proclaiming that Victor Frankenstein "vas my ... boyfriend!" Or the Blind Man (Gene Hackman) wistfully calling out to the fleeing monster, "I was gonna make espresso." (Hackman ad-libbed this line, and many other gags in the film, such as Igor's movable hump, were improvised by the actors.) And has a spoof ever been so beautifully staged? The production design is by Dale Hennesy, who had the wit to track down and borrow the original sparking and buzzing laboratory equipment that Kenneth Strickfaden created for the first Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931). The equally evocative black-and-white cinematography is by Gerald Hirschfeld.