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As much a Valentine to Universal's 1930s horror movies as a spoof of them, Young Frankenstein (1974) is one of Mel Brooks' funniest films, along with being his most polished and atmospheric. Beautifully filmed in black and white on some of the original Frankenstein sets, using the old 1:85 aspect ratio and a similar film stock, the movie displays a thorough knowledge of and respect for the old films, along with a deliciously heightened sense of their more ridiculous aspects.
Gene Wilder, who came up with the idea for the film and served as Brooks' co-writer, stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the mad scientist who created the original monster. To distance himself from his history, Frederick insists upon pronouncing the family name as "Frahkensteen." But a visit to the family castle and an encounter with the mysterious Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) soon has the grandson putting together his own monstrosity in the form of Peter Boyle -- who, as the new monster, sports a zipper around his neck. Adding immeasurably to the good-natured fun are Marty Feldman as Frederick's pop-eyed assistant, Igor; Madeline Kahn as his high-strung fiancee, Elizabeth; Teri Garr as the busty peasant girl, Inga; Gene Hackman as a blind hermit; and Kenneth Mars as a wooden-armed inspector inspired by Lionel Atwill in Son of Frankenstein (1939).
Kahn originally turned down the role of Inga in favor of playing Elizabeth. She later changed her mind, but it was too late because Garr had already been cast as Inga. Brooks, who "appears" in the film in the form of a gargoyle modeled after him, also voiced the off-screen sounds of a howling wolf and a screaming cat that's hit by a dart -- with the latter effect ad libbed by the director on the set. Another on-the-spot ad lib was Gene Hackman's "I was gonna make espresso" as the monster leaves the hermit's house. The name on the third brain when Igor makes his selection is that of the movie's assistant property master, Charles Sertin. A village guesthouse is named Gausthaus Gruskoff in honor of producer Michael Gruskoff.
Brooks reportedly was so reluctant to end the fun-filled 20th Century Fox production that he kept adding scenes so the company could remain together and continue shooting. He lost his temper only once during filming, becoming so upset that he threw a tantrum with Wilder and stormed out of the studio. Before long, however, he was on the telephone with Wilder saying, "Who was that lunatic yelling and screaming on the set today? You should fire that bum!"
Producer: Michael Gruskoff
Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, from the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein
Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld
Production Design: Dale Hennesy
Original Music: John Morris
Editing: John C. Howard
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Cast: Gene Wilder (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein), Peter Boyle (The Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blucher), Teri Garr (Inga), Kenneth Mars (Police Inspector Hans Wilhelm Friederich Kemp), Gene Hackman (Harold, the Blind Man).
by Roger Fristoe