Young Frankenstein is one of Mel Brooks’ most beloved pictures. And it’s easy to understand why – the film is hilarious! But while the comedy classic has built up a sizable following since its release in 1974, there are some juicy details that fans might not know about. So, we’re going to put that right today. Here are 40 of those secrets.
Remember the sequence where Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is playing darts with Inspector Kemp? As one of the projectiles flies out of shot, a cat yelps in shock. Well, that sound came courtesy of Mel Brooks, and it wasn’t even planned! He improvised it while the cameras were still rolling.
How about this for a funny detail? When Wilder’s Frankenstein is traveling via train to reach New York near the start of the movie, we overhear a man and woman quarreling. But then, as we transition to a shot of him on a train carriage heading to Transylvania, the exact same conversation is picked up again. Except it’s in German this time.
Given how funny Young Frankenstein is, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that the actors couldn’t keep straight faces for certain scenes. On that note, it’s said that the hardest sequence to get through was when Marty Feldman’s Igor overzealously attacks Elizabeth’s scarf outside the castle. The outtakes are hilarious!
Are you squeamish? If so, this next secret is sure to test your stomach! During the scene when Frankenstein and Teri Garr’s Inga discover a collection of skulls on display, most of them were genuine. Yep, they came from real skeletons. The “six months dead” skull was the only fake in the bunch, created especially for the movie.
Actors can sometimes recruit a director for a project, and that’s exactly what happened with Young Frankenstein. The New York Post’s website reported that Brooks spotted Wilder’s outline for the film as they were making Blazing Saddles together. The star then said, “My dream is for you to write it with me and direct it.”
Have you ever had so much fun at a party that you wish it could last forever? Well, the crew working on Young Frankenstein could certainly relate to that. Brooks, in particular, was having a ball with his actors and wasn’t ready to stop. So, as the shoot was set to conclude, he decided to create some additional sequences to prolong the production.
Do you remember the brain that Frankenstein wanted to use for the monster? In case you forgot, it was in a container that read, “Hans Delbrück: Scientist and Saint.” As it turns out, that wasn’t a made-up name – he was a real guy. The Mental Floss website notes that Delbrück was renowned for his knowledge of military history before his death in 1929.
Due to Young Frankenstein’s black and white cinematography, the crew had to call upon some old tricks when preparing Peter Boyle for the monster role. You see, Boris Karloff wore “greenish” make-up for his iconic part in 1931’s Frankenstein because the color made his face stand out. So, Boyle followed suit. Pretty cool, right?
Want to know how Kenneth Mars scored the part of Inspector Kemp? According to him, it hinged on a conversation he had with Brooks about the character’s look, which Mental Floss shared. The actor stated, “He [said], ‘If you’re wearing an eye patch and you’ve got a monocle on top of the eye patch, is that too much?’ I said, ‘Of course not.’ He said ‘Good, you’re hired!’”
Sometimes, romances can crop up in the most unexpected places. And that’s exactly what happened with Boyle. Incredibly, he was introduced to his future spouse while she was taking notes on Young Frankenstein’s production. You see, Loraine Alterman Boyle was preparing to pen a feature on the movie to publish in Rolling Stone.
Following Cloris Leachman’s elimination from Dancing with the Stars back in 2008, she revealed a bombshell to Us Weekly. The actress said, “Mel Brooks called me this morning when I was in the bathtub. He wants me to come back to Broadway and take over my role in the musical Young Frankenstein.” Sadly, Leachman couldn’t reprise the hilarious part of Frau Blücher in the end due to scheduling conflicts.
Gene Hackman is a tremendous actor with two Academy Awards to his name. But he had to push for his memorable cameo in Young Frankenstein. It was revealed in the Blu-ray commentary that Hackman played a lot of tennis with Wilder back then, which is how he heard of his work on the movie. He subsequently asked for a part as he “wanted to try comedy,” even offering to do it for nothing!
It’s hard to imagine Mel Brooks ever losing his cool, yet it happened while shooting Young Frankenstein. He and Wilder had a heated disagreement at the latter’s home, which led to Brooks walking out the front door. Then, the director called Wilder back after a few minutes and said, “Who was that madman you had in your house?” According to the actor, “[It was] Mel’s way of apologizing.”
Not all ad-libs pay off when making a movie, but Madeline Kahn made one count in Young Frankenstein. During the sequence when her character Elizabeth is about to share a smooch with Wilder’s Frankenstein, she tells him, “No tongues.” That line wasn’t in the script, but Brooks kept it in the final cut.
The next time you watch Young Frankenstein at home, pay close attention to the machines in the laboratory. Why? Well, according to Mental Floss, most of those tools were utilized in 1931’s Frankenstein. What a way to pay homage to one of cinema’s greatest horror flicks! Brooks went all in.
This next secret could really blow your mind, so get ready folks. As per the New York Post, Feldman shared the iconic “walk this way” joke off-camera, which prompted Brooks to add it to the film. There was just one problem, though – the actor himself hated it. Wilder wasn’t too keen, either, but the director stood his ground and didn’t cut it. Thank goodness!
During the sequences where the characters were walking around Frankenstein’s castle, the candles they were using weren’t real. Instead, each candle was actually an aluminum tube that housed a powerful “projection bulb.” That set-up came with a lot of wiring, which the actors needed to conceal under their costumes.
“Walk This Way” is a classic song by rock legends Aerosmith, captivating listeners since it dropped back in 1975. But do you know what ultimately spurred the group to create it? Simple – they saw Young Frankenstein! Yep, Feldman’s memorable line encouraged Steven Tyler to pen the track. That’s so awesome.
When looking at Brooks’ films, where would you rank Young Frankenstein? Well, according to the man himself, it’s just below Blazing Saddles and The Producers on the comedy scale. Despite that, he still believes it’s his finest work. As the director said on the DVD commentary, “The movie is just as emotional as it is funny. And that’s why it’s lasted so long.”
Teri Garr was absolutely perfect for the role of Inga. Mind you, she enjoyed a stroke of fortune ahead of the audition that ultimately bagged her the part. The New York Post reported that Garr was on The Sonny and Cher Show a day prior, where she met a German woman dealing with the wigs. Following a chat, the actress used her voice as an inspiration for the character’s accent.
We’re finding it tough to picture Young Frankenstein without the hilarious “Puttin’ on the Ritz” scene, but Brooks came close to cutting it out. Incredibly, he thought it was “too crazy.” That’s really saying something, considering how wild his films can get! Anyway, according to Mental Floss, Wilder was desperate for the sequence to be kept in, and thankfully got his way.
As any Mel Brooks fan will tell you, the cameos he makes in his movies are consistently brilliant, breaching the fourth wall with ease. Surprisingly, though, Wilder didn’t want that for Young Frankenstein. In his mind, it wouldn’t have fit. And for that reason, Brooks stayed off-screen. Then again, his voice did pop up near the start as a howling wolf.
If you’re a fan of Hogan’s Heroes, then this next tidbit could leave you slightly disappointed. As it turns out, Leon Askin was in Young Frankenstein’s initial cut, taking on the role of an attorney. Yet in the end, the TV star’s work was left on the cutting room floor by Brooks. Oh, what might’ve been.
During the sequence when Elizabeth is combing her locks prior to getting kidnapped by the monster, she belts out a tune. It’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But why did Brooks go with that track? Simple really – he didn’t have to pay for it! Yep, as he noted on the DVD commentary, it’s part of the public domain.
While making Young Frankenstein, Brooks was aware of Wilder’s ambitions to become a director himself. So, he offered various tidbits across the shoot. The actor once said, “Mel would say, ‘Do you know the trouble I’m in because I didn’t shoot that close-up? Don’t do that.’ I would say, ‘To whom are you talking?’ [He’d reply], ‘You, when you’re directing.’”
Remember the scene where Frau Blücher leads Frankenstein up a staircase with an unlit candelabra? Well, Wilder could barely keep it together thanks to Cloris Leachman’s hilarious performance. As she recalled in an interview shared by The Hollywood Reporter, “As I turned to Gene, he’d be laughing. His face was in two pieces laughing. We did about 15 takes. I just tickled him to pieces.”
The running joke regarding Igor’s moving hump is one of our favorites from Young Frankenstein. It’s just so silly! Mind you, it wasn’t part of the original screenplay. Instead, Marty Feldman was repositioning the prop without mentioning it during the early part of the shoot. Once the other actors picked up on it, it then became an official gag.
Young Frankenstein was a huge hit at the box office back in 1974, bringing in over $86 million. That made it the fourth-biggest film of the year. And it wasn’t Brooks’ only success across those 12 months. Blazing Saddles topped the aforementioned charts by earning close to $120 million as well. Wow!
As Frankenstein attempts to revive his monster in the movie, the latter’s face lights up thanks to a pretty cool special effect. You see, a prosthetic head was made to resemble Peter Boyle’s. Then, a bulb was placed inside the prop, which illuminated his mouth and eyes. Simple but effective, right?
The monster’s scene with the blind character Harold is full of hilarious gags, including the moment when he gets a lapful of scorching soup. But Boyle and the crew didn’t want to take any chances while filming it. So, as Mental Floss notes, he sported a protective cup under his costume. Better safe than sorry.
Thanks to the Motion Picture Production Code, Brooks and Dorothy Jeakins faced a very specific challenge on Young Frankenstein. Jeakins, who was the film’s costume designer, was tasked to reveal as much of Madeline Kahn’s upper torso as possible without violating the rules. That must’ve been a very weird process!
While Gene Hackman’s cameo in Young Frankenstein barely lasts for five minutes, he leaves an unmistakable mark on the film. His one scene as Harold is an absolute classic. Plus, his closing line was completely improvised, too. The first utterance of “I was gonna make espresso” is literally all they could use as it drew so many laughs. Hackman struggled to say it again.
Okay, fans, here’s a question to truly test your knowledge of Young Frankenstein. In the opening scene of the movie, how many times does the old clock chime? Remember, the camera shows it’s 12 o’clock. Well, if you said 12, you’d be wrong – it’s actually 13. It’s probably the easiest joke to miss.
Before the cameras started rolling on Young Frankenstein, Brooks was looking to make it with Columbia Pictures. Yet there was just one problem – the executives detested his plan to shoot the movie in black and white. Due to that, the director left them and joined up with 20th Century Fox, which gave him no such issues.
To say that Young Frankenstein’s initial test screening was a horror show would be underselling it. The film clocked in at more than two hours at that stage, with the New York Post revealing what Brooks said to the audience. He stated, “You’ve just seen a two-hour-and-22-minute failure. In less than three weeks, I want you back here to see a 95-minute smash-hit movie.” The rest is history!
Re-shoots can be unavoidable sometimes, and Brooks found himself in that position on Young Frankenstein. Thanks to an issue with make-up continuity, small parts of Harold’s sequence needed to be filmed again. But Gene Hackman wasn’t available. So, the director stepped up to fill his boots. It’s his hand you see when the soup gets dropped over the monster.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a huge honor when a movie gets added to the National Film Registry. Once it’s on the list, it’ll be preserved forever. Anyway, Young Frankenstein eventually earned a spot in the line-up back in 2003. What an accomplishment! Future generations will now have the chance to howl with laughter like the rest of us.
“We still have nightmares from five times before.” That line spoken by an unnamed official during Inspector Kemp’s first scene is quite easy to miss, yet it’s actually a cool easter egg. As Brooks noted in the DVD commentary, it was a cheeky acknowledgment of the old Universal monster movies.
Looking back on his talks with Columbia Pictures, Brooks recalled that the execs tried to pull a fast one on him. The director, who spoke to Conan O’Brien in an interview, said, “They said ‘Okay, we’ll make it in black and white, but on color stock so that we can show it in Peru, which just got color.’ And I said ‘No. You’ll screw me. You’ll print everything in color. It’s gotta be on… black and white thick film.’”
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The Producers. Stir Crazy. Blazing Saddles. Those are just a few of the standouts from Gene Wilder’s impressive body of work, but one movie in particular stole his heart. Yep, the actor revealed that Young Frankenstein was the pick of the bunch in his opinion. Is it your favorite? And how does it fare compared to these other iconic Hollywood classics – all of which have their own little-known behind-the-scenes secrets?