Monday, December 15, 2014

Spoofing Scary Movies in 'Young Frankenstein'

Inga (Teri Garr): Werewolf!

Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): Werewolf?

Igor (Marty Feldman): There.

Dr. Frankenstein: What?

Igor: There wolf. There castle.

Dr. Frankenstein: Why are you talking that way?

Igor: I thought you wanted to.

Dr. Frankenstein: No, I don't want to.

Igor: Suit yourself. I'm easy.

I have often found myself in a familiar discussion with people: Which Mel Brooks movie was better, "Blazing Saddles" or "Young Frankenstein?"

Both came out in the same year. They featured many of the same actors — including Brooks himself.

Most of my friends have come down on the side of "Blazing Saddles," and that is a hard one for me to dispute. But I've been saying for a long time that my personal preference is "Young Frankenstein," which premiered 40 years ago today, and I'll stick with that.

Maybe I was never the fan of westerns that many people are. It isn't that I don't like westerns. It's just that so many of them seemed to follow a basic formula, right down to white hats for good guys and black hats for bad guys. That really relieved the viewer of the burden of thinking.

Now, call me crazy, but I've always liked westerns that made me think. They've really been few and far between, though.

I guess the same is true of horror movies, and Brooks' humor was as merciless in its jabs at the horror genre as it was in its jabs at the western genre.

When I get right down to it, I suppose I just enjoy the puns and double entendres that go along with a horror spoof a little bit more than I enjoy the ones in a western spoof.

With a Mel Brooks movie, there is a plot in only the loosest sense of the word, anyway. The plot exists to set up jokes. It helps, of course, if the viewer is familiar with the movie/scene that is being lampooned — but familiarity isn't really necessary.

Mel Brooks is the sixth–grader the rest of us outgrew.

It isn't necessary to be familiar with the original "Frankenstein" to be amused when Teri Garr, in the back of a hay wagon that came to meet Gene Wilder at the Transylvania train station, invites him to take a roll in the hay. "It's fun!" she assures him before demonstrably rolling in the hay and singing "Roll, roll, roll in ze hay!"

Well, she was cute.

Marty Feldman was just silly as Igor (pronounced "EYE–gore," not "EEE–gore"), but he's one of those guilty pleasures, like laughing at the all–too–predictable antics of Laurel & Hardy or the Three Stooges — only with a little more wit.

In the scenes involving Peter Boyle, who did a first–rate job of lampooning Boris Karloff's 1931 performance as the monster, it was kind of important to be familiar with elements of the movie — but it wasn't that important.

He did a fine job of mimicking Karloff's jerky movements and grunting noises, but it really helped to know that the monster in the original "Frankenstein" actually did encounter a young girl and kill her. It also helped to know how the monster killed her in that original movie.

But it was still funny, even if you weren't familiar with the original.

I had seen "Frankenstein" several times by the time I saw "Young Frankenstein" so I got the jokes. You could probably get the jokes if you hadn't seen the Karloff movie.

But I'm sure it helped.

The monster also encountered a blind man, who was lampooned by Gene Hackman. His scene where he tries to serve hot liquid to the monster always makes me laugh.

But when you talk about always making me laugh, there are two ladies in "Young Frankenstein" who always have me in stitches — Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn, two extraordinarily gifted and talented actresses.

Both had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress in recent years (Leachman won for "The Last Picture Show," Kahn was nominated for "Paper Moon" but lost to co–star Tatum O'Neal). Having both of them in the same movie was a real coup for Brooks, one he would not duplicate until he made "History of the World Part I."

Kahn got the Best Supporting Actress nod over Leachman (who could resist that bride of Frankenstein look? — as opposed to Frau Blucher, the very mention of whose name made previously docile horses buck and whinny) but lost to Ingrid Bergman.