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Saturday, February 4, 2017

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)

Undoubtedly Mel Brooks’ best film, a deliriously funny, sharply observed take-off/love letter on the great cycle of ‘30s Universal horror films. (Mostly FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF . . . , with a hunk of R.K.O.’s KING KONG.) But why so much better then the rest of Brooks’ output? Obviously, much credit goes to Gene Wilder who came up with the idea, co-wrote, brilliantly stars & insisted on staying close to the source, especially in the look. Setting up a b&w feature film in 1974 was no ‘gimme.’ But a real story and a unifying style gave Brooks a discipline in execution he’d never held to before; nor would again. (THE PRODUCERS/’67, his only other original with a story that matters, is devoid of style.) Here, Brooks & Wilder keep the jokes grounded in genre (compare with the anything-goes gags in Brooks’ proto-Hitchcockian HIGH ANXIETY/’77), and the plot builds enough traction to tug any clunkers along. The cast, a festival of comic loons at peak level, are all standouts, but Peter Boyle’s monster earns special kudos for his unique song-and-dance chops and for the blissed-out hilarity of a long sequence with Gene Hackman’s inadvertently sadistic blind hermit. As painfully funny as W.C. Fields in IT’S A GIFT/’34 with his own destructive blind man.* American comedy doesn’t get much better than that.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: File under ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ - note that the film is structured not in the usual THREE Acts but in FOUR. Fade-outs make the act breaks easy to spot. They teach this script in film school . . . and always get this wrong.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Hackman’s hermit doesn’t look much like the lonely soul in the old FRANKENSTEIN pic, instead going for a startling likeness of director John Ford’s brother Francis Ford, a regular supporting actor in the Ford company. (See profiles below.)

Francis Ford in THE QUIET MAN

Gene Hackman

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