Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Night of Terror #15: 'Young Frankenstein'

The critical line on Mel Brooks (and one that he himself is not shy about perpetuating) is that he's nothing but a hyperactive goofball, bouncing off the walls doing wacky voices and characters mixed with a lot of semi-ironic old school showbiz cheese. That's all true, of course, but there's another story behind Mel, and it's particularly evident in his twin masterpieces of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

Since nobody dresses up as a cowboy on Halloween anymore, we're here to rap Young Frankenstein. Brooks has a formal mastery and grasp on the material being parodied here (namely, Universal monster movies) that can only come from spending way too much time WATCHING the movies themselves. The black-and-white cinematography, the music, and even the acting styles of those old thrillers are all captured perfectly, and, as I'm not the first to point out, make the jokes 1000% funnier, and the movie 1000% more satisfying.

And oh, those jokes. Young Frankenstein had a famously relaxed and fun shoot, with Mel Brooks adding more and more scenes and gags just so they wouldn't have to stop shooting. That ramshackle vibe can definitely be felt in the movie's structure - even though the production elements are pretty airtight, the movie itself doesn't really rise and fall in the traditional manner. One of the things that struck me this time around is that the end of the movie isn't really any funnier than the beginning, it all just rises and falls almost like it's being improvised.

I also love the way Brooks uses long, static camera shots to give his crack ensemble plenty of move to breathe. Watch the scene with Gene Wilder, exuding barely suppressed rage, quietly interrogating Marty Feldman (whose collisions with the fourth wall are probably what propel this movie into Immortal Masterpiece territory) about the brain he put in the Creature's body. It's just one of many long takes in the movie, and it's full of wonderful little details from both actors that make the movie grow each time you see it.

I'm finding it hard not to resort to hackneyed phrases when talking about this movie, which is a shame because it's such an original work. But if this movie taught me anything it's that we can't all be geniuses.

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