Young Frankenstein (1974)


“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?” –Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

When I saw an advertisement for a screening of Young Frankenstein with a live introduction by Mel Brooks, I knew I was going to break my rule of watching all 100 AFI comedies in order for this blog. Most of Brooks’ films float to the top of the list, with Young Frankenstein placing at #13. There were multiple theaters across Los Angeles participating in the live-stream introduction from Fox Studios. I selected an AMC in Burbank.

Since the event was at 5pm on a weekday, I was one of the few 20-somethings in the theater of 400+ moviegoers. The audience was largely retirees, middle-aged superfans sporting Young Frankenstein apparel (yes, it exists), and Jewish families on vacation. I arrived promptly at 4:30 so I could claim a good seat in the center of the theater. When an older gentleman who arrived at 4:45 cursed his wife because she thought it was assigned seating, it became clear to me that Young Frankenstein had the power to attract an intensely devout breed of Mel Brooks fans.

For those of you who need a refresher of Young Frankenstein, or have not seen it, here is what Mel Brooks told Jimmy Fallon in a recent interview:

Everyone was having lunch and [Gene Wilder] was writing on a legal pad. I looked at the top and it said, “Young Frankenstein.” I said, “What the hell is that?” He said, “Well, I had an idea. What if the grandson of Victor Frankenstein was a serious brilliant surgeon and wanted nothing to do with the people who were responsible for making a monster and reanimating dead tissue? And he’s fighting it, but it’s in his blood. I said, “That’s a terrific idea.”

Here’s what it’s like to watch a movie at this type of event. When the opening credits appear, the audience will burst into orgasmic applause every time a name pops up on the screen. Mel Brooks? Applause. Gene Wilder? Applause. Even editor John C. Howard gets an applause. Oh, if only Mr. Howard knew how much this 2016 audience would appreciate every distracting ’70s transition he inserted into the film. I wish we had the opportunity to applaud the production designer more; seeing Young Frankenstein loom above me on the big screen made me appreciate the robust and sizable castle sets used in the film.

Of course, the audience’s laughter filled every nook and cranny of the screening. The comedic energy of Gene Wilder’s character, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, is a force to behold…even compared to other Wilder roles. (And that’s saying a lot. Remember Willy Wonka in that tunnel scene?) Frenzied Frederick Frankenstein screams at his creation, choreographs a complete song-and-dance number, and thrusts a knife into his own leg decades before Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) makes it cool in Talladega Nights.

When Frankenstein believes his attempt to reanimate dead tissue has failed, he says, “Be of good cheer. If science teaches us anything, it teaches us to accept our failures as well as our successes with quiet dignity and grace.” But then, his impulses kick in and he profanely shakes the bejeezus out of his unsuccessful monster. I wish I could report that the audience responded with quiet dignity and grace when the night concluded without a live anything from Mel Brooks. Instead, an angry mob of fans packed around the guest services counter, all but reaching over it to shake the bejeezus out of the AMC employees. A man with a ponytail exclaimed, “I produced a show with Mel Brooks! I deserve better than this!” Not one who enjoys causing a ruckus, I found the soft-spoken group of upset people and huddled with them.

AMC did their best to redeem the situation by sending everyone home with a complimentary movie ticket. I met my good friend Matt at Fuddruckers next door where we ate our burgers and joked about the guy who’s getting fired for dropping the ball and screwing up my date with Mel. My night turned out to be full of painfully hilarious disappointments, just like Frederick Frankenstein’s extended stay in Transylvania.

In other words, if my night was a scene from a Mel Brooks comedy, it would have unfolded exactly the way it did. And my cheeks still hurt from laughing through the whole thing.