47 Great Movie Moments #34 – Young Frankenstein

And we continue with this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?).  For #34, I thought I’d begin run of comedy moments, as opposed to the dramatic ones that most of my posts have been about.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed by:  Mel Brooks

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein returns to his family home and finds himself sucked carrying on the work of his infamous grandfather–creating life from lifenessness!

The Set-up

With the help of his servant Igor (Marty Feldman) and assistant Inga (Teri Garr), Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) has created a Monster (Peter Boyle) out of dead body parts.  For the creature’s brain, Frankenstein intends to use that of a famous historian, but because of Igor’s incompetence, this is replaced with an “abnormal” one, albeit without Frederick’s knowledge. The creature is brought to life, and cautiously, the three creators approach him…

The Moment

To their shock, the Monster reacts with rage, grabbing Frankenstein and chocking him.  He desperately calls for his assistants to sedate the creature, but can’t get past “Give him the…” before being choked into silence.  So he turns to charades, and painfully slowly communicates the three syllables in “Sedative” to the others, all while being strangled.  Eventually the message gets through, and Inga injects the Monster with a drug that knocks him out.

Frederick takes a moment to compose himself, and then calls Igor over for a “friendly chat.”  “Do you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?” he asks after finding out that it was not the one he wanted.  Igor is nervous, and makes Frederick promise not to be angry, before answering, “Abbie Someone.”  “Abbie who?” he is asked.  “Abbie Normal,” he responds, and then, “I’m almost sure that was the name.”

Frederick chuckles lightly, and then says, “Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and half foot long, 54 inch wide…GORILLA?!  IS THAT…WHAT…YOU’RE…TELLING ME?!” and the choking begins again!  But this time it is Igor who starts charading the word ‘sedative’ to Inga.  Fortunately for him, the potential murder is interrupted by the arrival of a police officer, which brings everything into the next sequence.

It’s of course hard to communicate how good this scene is on paper.  It’s all done in just a few shots (all wide shots or two shots, except for a couple of cutaways to Inga’s face) with a few simple camera movements to keep the focus of the frame where we want it but the comic timing of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and Teri Garr (and to a lesser extent here, Peter Boyle) is brilliant.  Director Mel Brooks does an excellent job of keeping the jokes moving at just the right pace, so nothing is lost but there’s never a dull moment, and the screenplay by Wilder and Brooks is gold.  All the performances are good, but Wilder is particular compelling.

Good comedy looks effortless but is not easy to achieve, and this whole movie does it with excellence, with this being one of many standout scenes.

The Payoff

Igor’s blunder continues to be cause problems, but in the end Frankenstein is able to help his creation find his humanity.  And in spite of this deepish sort of resolution, we get to laugh all along the way.

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