I saw this movie first-run on a rainy night in Syracuse, NY (where nearly all the nights are rainy). The group of us who went wondered if Mel Brooks could top "Blazing Saddles" and there are those who still prefer the Western parody. But I fell in love with this movie from the opening credits.
First of all, the look was exactly right. Not too many years ago, I saw an interview with Mr. Brooks who said he couldn't seem to get the right dark look until he had his Director of Photography, Gerald Hirshfeld, watch the old Universal classic Frankenstein movies. Supposedly, Hirshfeld then said "I got it." And he did.
What luck that Kenneth Strickfaden, the designer of the laboratory (accent on the second syllable, please) in the original film was still alive and still had the equipment. What genius of Mel Brooks to find Strickfaden and use that equipment for the young Dr. Fronkensteen's lab. According to imdb, Mel gave Strickfadden the screen credit he'd never gotten for the original.
The casting was impeccable as well. From Gene Wilder to Teri Garr to the merest extra, they played together like a long-time rep company. Special kudos to Cloris Leachman who was Frau Blücher, a woman so fearsome horses neighed in terror at the sound of her name. When this film was made, Cloris was a gorgeous woman, a real "hot ticket" as they'd say in Massachusetts. She was willing to make herself look ugly to make her part work. Cloris, I'll never forget your funniest line, "YES. YES. Say it. He vas my... BOYFRIEND!"
It seems that everyone was willing to try what they could to make this movie great. The famous "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene was Gene Wilder's idea. Mel hated it, but filmed it anyway. When they saw an audience in hysterics at a preview, Mel put his director's ego aside and let it stay, unlike almost half the movie that was shot! The "Young Frankenstein" that we know came about through ruthless cutting of the original by Brooks and Wilder. Every joke that didn't work was cut, leaving us all the best.
What a script that was. The jokes just kept on coming, and my sisters and I still quote the movie to each other. One of them recently had surgery and I went to the hospital with her for a pre-op seminar for several patients and their family members. The nurse was describing what was going to happen the day of the operation and explained how the patient would be given a sedative. My sister busily wrote on her notepad and slid it to me to read "Sedagive." I had to bite my cheek. I can't quote all my favorite lines here because that would be the entire script.
Let us remember those major cast members who are no longer with us. Peter Boyle, who starts as an incoherent monster and ends up as an urbane sophisticate who makes his bride sing "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life!" as they make love. The beautiful and brilliantly funny Madeline Kahn who knew she was wrong for the part of Inga, the lab assistant, but right for Young Frankenstein's chilly fiancee Elizabeth. And dear funny Marty Feldman, Eyegore, whose hump mysteriously moved from shoulder to shoulder and who brought home a brain from someone named "Abby Normal."
And so we conclude my series on beloved black and white movies. This also concludes my contributions to this blog. As of Sunday, Feb. 1, I will no longer be living in Folly Cove, leaving this blog to Leslie, its originator. Once again, I find myself quoting Irving Berlin as my farewell:
"If you're blue and you don't know where to go to,
Why don't you go where fashion sits,
Puttin' on the ritz."