YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s monster monster comedy
A touching tribute to Gene Wilder, still puttin’ on the Ritz.
TO SAY THAT
in the early ’70s Gene Wilder was in the midst of a career slump might sound absurd. The string of flops he was enduring included the incontrovertibly brilliant The Producers and the now cult hit Willy Wonka &
The Chocolate Factory. Sure, people may love them now, but not many wanted to see them then. Off the boil as an actor, it was both the worst and best time for Wilder to venture into screenwriting. On the downside, nobody was really watching him. On the plus side, nobody was really watching him.
Wilder started playing with an idea he’d had for a little while: what if Victor Frankenstein, the hero/villain of Mary Shelley’s classic novel
Frankenstein, had a grandson who was embarrassed by his ancestor’s experiments with cut-and-shut cadavers? What if he wanted to lead a normal life but was tempted back to his genetic destiny, finishing what ol’ grandpappy started, with the help of sundry idiots in a spooky castle? During shooting on Blazing Saddles, which would soon be the massive hit Wilder needed, not that he knew it at the time, he approached that film’s director, Mel Brooks, with the suggestion of collaboration. Tickled by the idea, Brooks agreed to co-write and direct. Together they constructed one of the most ingeniously stupid films ever made.
Visually, it’s a very calm film, with Brooks and DP Gerald Hirschfeld painstakingly recreating the stately camera work and elegant black-and-white look that James Whale (director of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movies) or Tod Browning (who turned Bela Lugosi into Dracula) gave their 1930s Universal horrors. If it weren’t it might not