A Century of Movies at the Alamo: Young Frankenstein (1974) September 18 at 6pm
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fron-kon-steen”) is a neurosurgeon with only one problem – his grandfather is extremely famous for re-animating the dead – and Frederick wants absolutely nothing to do with this legacy. He is only into hard facts and legitimate science, not any of that kooky stuff like bringing people back from the dead. He’s going about his life, teaching medical students, and dealing with the occasional reference to his undesirable relative when an even bigger problem arises – his grandfather leaves him his estate in Transylvania and now Frederick has to go to Transylvania and fully confront the family business and legacy he has worked so hard to avoid. When he arrives in Transylvania, he meets an intriguing group of characters including a hunchback caretaker named Igor, a pretty lab assistant named Inga, a hard-boiled housekeeper named Frau Blucher, and several suspicious villagers. Now, the young Dr. Frankenstein must decide if he is going to continue to ignore his family history or if he is going to whole-heartedly embrace it.
Even before his famed film career, Mel Brooks had established himself as a leading comedic voice, writing for such television shows as Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and Sid Caesar Invites You. He even created Get Smart which ran from 1965-1970. Then he went on to write and direct two of the most iconic film comedies of all time – The Producers (1967) and Blazing Saddles (1974). Gene Wilder, an actor who had previously only appeared in dramatic roles, had a co-starring role in both films and it was on the set of Blazing Saddles (1974) that the story of Young Frankenstein begins. Wilder had come up with a story idea about the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein inheriting his estate and he wanted to turn into a movie. During the last few weeks of shooting, Wilder mentioned the idea to Brooks and the two subsequently worked together to develop the screenplay. The film came together even further when Gene Wilder’s agent suggested that two of his other clients, Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman be cast in the film as well. They ended up playing the creature and Igor, respectively. Soon, long-time Mel Brooks collaborators Cloris Leachman, who played Frau Blucher, and Madeleine Kahn, who played Elizabeth, were added to the cast, as was Teri Garr, who played Inga.
Young Frankenstein, much like many of Mel Brooks’s other films, is a parody of a particular film or genre, in this case, the classic Frankenstein horror franchise produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s. Every detail of the film was supposed to mimic the look and ambiance of the original franchise, right down to the decision to shoot the film on black and white film stock and the use of the same lab equipment from the original franchise. Brooks even made a point to use the same camera angles and shot types that were prolifically used by the legendary James Whale, director of Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Brooks efforts worked and his film feels very much like an aesthetic continuation of the original franchise. This connection grounds the film and its characters to this very specific world which then allows Brooks and his comedic troupe of actors to run rampant in hilarious fashion as they lovingly parody the original franchise.
Their jokes, gags, and one-liners have become completely ingrained within our pop culture landscape and the film as a whole has had a far-reaching impact on the comedic genre. The punny conversations, the performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the idea that one must stay close to the candles because the staircase can be treacherous, the fiancé that rejects your advances at every turn, the violin that soothes a monster, the hump that moves, the inspector with the wooden arm, and the housekeeper that scares horses have all become iconic. In fact, Aerosmith was so taken with the “walk this way” gag, that they wrote a song inspired by it. Young Frankenstein is a film that is quoted over and over explicitly or implicitly within our conversations, our films, and our television shows. It has become so influential that it was even added to the National Film Registry in 2003.
So come out to the Alamo Theatre on September 18 at 6pm to join in the fun and to help us celebrate Gene Wilder's legacy. You will never look at the Frankenstein legacy the same way again. Tickets are $5 or Free for Members and Century Donors. Doors open at 5:30pm.