I took my kids to see Young Frankenstein at the BAM Cinematek this week. It was interesting to talk about the film with my young scientist, who also has a great sense of humor. I'm glad my kids don't have a strong aversion to black and white films, an aversion many young people have and one that I don't comprehend at all.
It was a good crowd of people there, who obviously loved the film, and we were all applauding our favorite bits, like this:
The line is so legendary that Brooks made it into a whole song in his musical version of the film.
I've always had a greater affection for Young Frankenstein than for Blazing Saddles, generally considered to be Brooks' best work. Blazing Saddles is outrageous, brilliant, and howlingly funny, with hilarious anachronisms and stinging anti-racist commentary. (Not for nothing are there tons of youtube videos interspersing Obama's inauguration with scenes of Sheriff Bart's arrival in Rock Ridge.) But Young Frankenstein, co-authored with Gene Wilder, tells a richer, more human tale.
Granted, when you're starting off the plot of a great novel like Mary Shelley's, it's easy to tell a good tale. But Wilder was very committed to his script; indeed, he agreed to step in at the last minute to play the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles with the understanding that Brooks would produce and/or direct the script Wilder was still working on at that time. And Wilder crafts a wonderful tale of a man who has rejected his past (much as the original Dr. rejected his creation) but who ultimately learns to embrace it and discover his true identity.
Okay, it also helps that the film is just funny. Watching it today, with so many of these gifted people gone, makes me a little sad at their loss. Madeline Kahn, as Frankenstein's fiance Elizabeth, is perfectly cast. Dear Marty Feldman, as I-gor, also died too soon. Peter Boyle (the Monster) and Kenneth Mars (Inspector Kemp, who uses his artificial arm for many purposes) have both died in recent years.
Watching it with my kids reminded me that it was one of the first films I saw on my own at the movies, with friends of mine. I'm almost positive it was just four or five of us and no adult supervision. This is another reason for my preferring Young Frankenstein to Blazing Saddles, since I didn't get to see it on the big screen, only on tv, and for a long time, in a truncated version (no farting). It comes with a lot of nice memories of a theater that's now a Chinese supermarket and friends I have not seen in three decades and more.