Many people of my heritage are spending today and tomorrow in solemn reflection of their past year's transgressions and the possibility of a better year to come. I don't do the spiritual thing so much, but I do have a religious holiday this week and it comes Wednesday night. Please don't call me that evening.
For the first time in many years, the 1974 classic Young Frankenstein will be shown in theaters around the country. Mel Brooks (if I have to tell you who he is, just come back next week) has said he requested the showings as a tribute to the late Gene Wilder and Brooks will deliver a live (on-screen from, the 20th Century Fox lot in Los Angeles) introduction to the film.
It's a lovely gesture and a reminder of quite possibly the best comedy ever made. With a 1927-Yankees kind of cast and a script by Wilder with contributions from Brooks, it's a lovely, faithful homage/lampoon of the great James Whale Frankenstein films of the 1930s starring Boris Karloff (first just "Karloff") as the Creature (later "the Monster"). And if ever a film could be said to exist as a labor of love this is that film.
Brooks was never as clever a director, framing things as Whale would have, playing each joke--and there are tons of jokes--right to the limit but never past it. It's a loving film and staged like a real horror movie except that everyone in it is very silly.
And wow, was there ever a better-cast comedy? I don't think so. Wilder of course takes the part of the young doctor, so disgusted with his family's history that he pronounces his last name "Fronk-on-steen." His assistant (henchman), upon hearing this, insists his name is pronounced "Eye-gore," and given that he's played by the sublime Marty Feldman, the name sticks. The creation (because it wouldn't be a Frankenstein movie if there was no man made of previously-used parts and lightning) is played by Peter Boyle in what might be his finest performance. I could go all the way down the cast list--Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr and almost unrecognizably Gene Hackman--and there isn't one who isn't perfect. Not good, not great, perfect. Every one.
Wilder was perhaps the master of playing comedy through character. Feldman is the wonderful character who comments on the action because he doesn't have to care. Boyle is the enormous little child trapped in a hulking dangerous body. Leachman plays menace and heart.
Every situation is set up and executed with care and thought. Every scene is framed and shot with intelligence. It's not just about being funny, although it is always that. It's about being true to the subject matter. That's Mel. It's about being hilarious but with heart. That's Gene. It's about a group of comedy all-stars that know they're doing something special and are clearly having a great time they don't want to end. That's all of them.
So Wednesday night, if you get the chance, go see Young Frankenstein in a theater with an audience. It's where comedy is supposed to be, and this is the greatest comedy ever filmed, I've decided.
And don't look for me then because I will be with my people, after a celebratory dinner, worshipping at our collective temple and hoping for a miracle, that something might be this good again.
It doesn't seem possible, but religious holidays are all about faith, aren't they?