Sunday, October 6, 2013

Don't Make a Scene: Young Frankenstein

The Story: An inspired comedy? Yes. But not in the way you think. The inspiration came from Gene Wilder's agent who asked him if there were any projects that he could work on with Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle, seeing as how they were also clients of his. Wilder said he'd see what he could do, and went home and started work on what would be Young Frankenstein. When he'd finished it, he approached old friend and collaborator Mel Brooks to direct it. Initially reluctant, Brooks agreed.

Then, the work began. Wilder says in the interviews of the DVD that the process of finalizing the script for Young Frankenstein was like a grilling. Brooks would challenge every line Wilder wrote for its comedic value. Quite unlike one's impression of Mel Brooks, it was a deliberate process of determining what would work and what wouldn't with many changes to Wilder's original screenplay (which is online several places--check out the differences!) When they were done, it was a pastiche of Wilder and Brooks as well as a combination of emotional flavors.

This is one of my favorite scenes--if not THE favorite: it's the perfect combination of of two bi-polar emotions—zany comedy and genuine horror. Brooks took pains to recreate the atmosphere of the old Universal horror films, going so far as to rent the old lab equipment and making the commercially-dangerous decision to shoot the film in black and white.* The stark contrast of those films and the limited palette evoke a sense of dread on its own, and the voluptuous shadows always seem to be hiding something. Yes, the scene is giddy, but it's based around genuine danger and the hilarious reactions that that danger can evoke (something Wilder excelled at). There's just a bubbling beaker of adrenalin's difference between laughter and panic. Hysterics can be hysterical.

The other thing is this is a pivotal scene in Dr. Von Frankenstein's character arc. In it, he reclaims the Frankenstein family heritage as his own. Before this scene, he had rejected the curse of Frankenstein (sounds like a title!) preferring the pronunciation Fronk'-en-steen to avoid identification with his dishonored ancestor, the mad scientist. This scene changes all that.

Young Frankenstein was voted into the National Film Registry in 2003, and was rated lucky 13 in the AFI's "100 Funniest Movies."

The Set-Up: Frederick von Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), brilliant young surgeon, has inherited the estate of his grandfather--the legendary Dr. Victor von Frankenstein, whose experiments with re-animating dead tissue Frederick has renounced, going so far as to use a tortured pronunciation of the family name. But Fate and Destiny have conspired to make the young Dr. Frankenstein recreate the experiments of his fore-fathers, and his Creature (Peter Boyle) is just as messed up in the head as the first one. After capturing him again from an earlier escape, Frederick and his assistants, Inga (Terri Garr) and Igor (Marty Feldman), and the Baron's ancient girlfriend, Frau Blucher**
(Cloris Leachman) make a desperate attempt to reason with "abnormal brain inside a 7 1/2 foot long, 54 inch wide gorilla."

Good luck with that, fella.


Frederick: I'm going in there. Bring me that candle.
Igor/Inga: NO!
Frau Blucher: YESsssss!

Frederick: the only thing that can save this poor creature. And I am going to convince him that he is loved, even at the cost of my own life!

Frederick: No matter what you hear in matter how cruelly I beg matter how terribly I may scream...DO NOT open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? DO NOT...OPEN THIS DOOR!
Inga: Yes, Doctor.

(Frau Blucher nods)

Igor: Nice workin' with ya!

(Frau Blucher kisses his hand, he goes in and she locks the door after him)

(He walks in and bumps the table, waking the Monster )

Monster: RAHHHHHR!!!

Frederick: Let me out, let me out, get me the hell out of here.

(The Monster stands)

Frederick: What's the matter with you people, I was joking! Don't you know a joke when you hear one? HA-HA-HA-HAH! (He looks back at the Monster) Jesus Christ, get me outta here!

(Inga reaches for the door, Frau Blucher stops her)

Frederick: Open this god-damn door, I'll kick your rotten heads in!! MOMMY!!!

(Inga tries again.)
Frau Blucher: NEIN!!

(The Monster roars and it subsides into a threatening growl)

Frederick:(mumbles)Obviously.....(Addressing the Monster) HELLO, HANDSOME!

(The Monster looks around, confused)

Frederick: You're a good looking fellow, do you know that?
(The Monster growls suspiciously)

Frederick: People laugh at you. People hate you.

Frederick: But why do they hate you? Because ... they ... are ... jealous!

(The Monster growls, satisfied)

Frederick: Look at that boyish face. Look at that sweet smile.

Frederick: Do you want to talk about physical strength? Do you want to talk about sheer muscle? Do you want to talk about the Olympian Ideal? You...are...a...GOD!

(The Monster purrs)

Frederick: And listen to me...You are not evil...You...are...GOOD!

(The Monster starts to sob)

Frederick: Awwww, this is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother's angel. And we want the world to know...once and for all and without any shame...that...we...LOVE him!

(The Monster is racked with sobs)

Frederick:(building now) Oh! I'm going to teach you, I'm going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think...

Frederick: Together, you and I...are going to make....the greatest single contribution to Science...since the creation of fire!!!

Inga: Dr. Fronkensteen! Are you all right!!!

Frederick: MY NAME....IS FRANKENSTEIN!!!!!

(The Monster growls worriedly)

Young Frankenstein

Words by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks

Pictures by Gerald Hirschfeld and Mel Brooks

Young Frankenstein is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

* The studio was dead-set against it thinking that people would feel cheated if the film wasn't in color, but Brooks got his way--the film is in black and white. Beautifully shot, lovingly detailed black and white. It reminded a lot of people the benefits of such an artistic choice.

** whinny!

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