October 22, 2004

That's "Frahnkensteen"

Sheila's pal Alexandra Billings has a round up of the 30 Greatest Movies of All Time, in Parts One and Two. As you might expect of any friend of Sheila, she has some interesting choices and some interesting commentary.

A couple of these movies stand out in my mind because I've been thinking about them lately. First is His Girl Friday. I haven't seen this in ages, but I love it. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell deliver slick, snappy repartee. And ol' Rosalind is a real eye-full. Time to run it off again, I think.

Second is What's Up, Doc? I loathe Barbra Streisand, not (just) because of her politics, but because her brand of adorable sassiness makes me want to reach for a brick. Also, if international terrorists ever kidnapped me and wanted me to divulge secret information, all they'd have to do is tie me up and force me to listen to Babs sing a medley of cabaret favorites including "Memories," "People," and "Send in the Clowns." I'd squeel like a stuck pig. Despite all this, I happen to think this is a very funny movie with a solid cast, good writing and one of the best chase scenes in the pictures.

But what really got my attention about Alexandra's compilation were her thoughts on Young Frankenstein. Allow me to quote in full:

Well, now, really. I mean....is there anything better? Mel Brooks at his insane best. Yet, the interesting thing is, it never once loses sight of the homage it pays to the original Frankenstein (or is it "Steen"?) It's most definitely a comedy, but the mood Brooks plays into is still very real. Gene Wilder's Frankenstein is classic now, and with help from Chloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, Kenneth Genius Mars, and the redoubtable Madeline Kahn, how can you fail? All the actors had to do was play the reality of the situation, and the funny happened naturally. The film never comments on itself, yet always has a sense of the ridiculous. "He was my BOYFRIEND!" I mean, please.

There's no way to single out a performance here. The great thing about this film is that it truly plays like an ensemble comedy. But I have to mention the great Peter Boyle at the Monster who utters only one line in the movie: "Putting on the RIIIIITZ", and the brilliant Gene Hackman in an uncredited appearance as the Blind Man who comes into contact with Boyle. Hackman's 5 minute scene is enough to see this picture. As Hackman feels Boyle's massive chest, and blind as a bat, he retorts: "You must've been the biggest one in your class."

*Frankenstein Side Note: Terri Garr was all set to play Wilder's fiancee, but it wasn't until Brooks and Wilder had seen "What's Up Doc?", that they re-thought the idea and cast Madeline as the unsuspecting victim of the Monsters first sexual conquest. The aria Kahn sings in the cave was her own idea. It was an improv that Brook's simply left in, and asked Garr to copy in the last shot of the film.

I think this is exactly right and is why Y.F. is superior to Blazing Saddles, which gives up on trying to stay in character and goes for lampoon and sight-gags instead. I always thought this detracted from the film. The same problem afflicts, to a greater or lesser extent, High Anxiety, which is okay, History of the World, Part I, which Steve-O likes but I think is a dog, and Space Balls, which is deplorably unfunny.

Also, Y.F. has an absolutely superior cast. Not a weak link among 'em. I've always thought that Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman in particular ought to have been ashamed of themselves for the way they ate up their characters. One extra Llama Yip! about this. I once saw a tee-vee show about the film that showed a bunch of attempted takes at the scene where Kahn's Elizabeth arrives at the castle, Wilder's Doctor asks Marty Feldman's Igor to help him with the bags and Feldman breaks into his Groucho routine: Soytenly! You take the blonde and I'll take the one in the toyban! They had to film that bit over and over again because everyone kept cracking up. Even in the final shot, you can still see Wilder trying to suppress a smile. That is a sign of a cast having a good time. And it shows throughout the movie.

Posted by Robert at October 22, 2004 09:34 AM

I can't help but feel that your blog outage yesterday was all my fault. I post something about ".mu.nu/ sites" and then instant and complete chaos. Must be some sort of Justified and Ancient curse or something... Sorry

Posted by: stephenesque at October 22, 2004 10:04 AM

YF is a classic in the truest sense. It stands the test of time and only gets funnier as time passes, imho.

I saw the same TV special and it was fun to hear the actors talk about making the movie - their genuine affection and respect for one another and their equally genuine respect and affection for the original movie they were parodying.

I agree that it's better than Blazing Saddles, too.

Posted by: jen at October 22, 2004 10:45 AM

Thanks for the link, as ever.

I remember when my brother and I were little kids - there were 2 movies that my parents let us stay up waaaay past our bedtime to see (this was in pre-VCR days - so you never knew when they would be on again). One of them was The Sting and one was What's Up Doc.

I can recite What's Up Doc in its entirety. And I still remember my brother and I, as little kids, writhing about on the floor in hysterics during the chase scene (with the runaway Chinese dragon ...) HAHAHA

Posted by: red at October 22, 2004 11:37 AM

FYI, I picked up "His Girl Friday" recently in a bargain bin somewhere... I want to say WalMart, for a buck, along with D.O.A. and other oldies.

Posted by: Ted at October 22, 2004 02:03 PM

Brooks once floated the idea of John Wayne playing "The Waco Kid" in Saddles past the Duke himself. Duke's response: "It's funny, but I can't do it. I'm John Wayne."

I think that would have brought some of the YF seriousness to it, and would have been hilarious. I crack up every time I picture Duke saying, "That depends...are we black?"

Posted by: Joe R. the Unabrewer at October 22, 2004 02:20 PM

His Girl Friday has got to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Unbelievable.

Cary Grant HOLLERING into the phone:


Apparently, the sound guys had mentioned to Howard Hawks and Cary: "Look - they're speaking at the same time ...we can't hear them ... they have to not trip on each other's lines - because we can't hear what they're saying..."

And Hawks and Cary both said: "But that's the whole point. These 2 characters talk at the same time."

SO FUNNY. So much fun to watch.

Posted by: red at October 22, 2004 02:44 PM

Note to the Missus: Time to go on full His Girl Friday Watch.

Posted by: Robert the LB at October 22, 2004 03:48 PM

"Spaceballs" IS funny, dammit!

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