Rewatching “Young Frankenstein” with a Ten Year Old.
The effect of watching a classic movie with offspring is unsettling and unrelaxing because you’re constantly hoping that hilarity will be spontaneous. Lady Mary Stuart was shocked to do discover that decades after its first publication (1771), young people no longer sobbed while Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling was read out loud. Perhaps someone born this century might fail to laugh during Young Frankenstein. Perhaps they might cry.
Fear not. They laughed. Not during the sex references so much, I suppose I’m pleased to say and neither did they enjoy Victor stabbing himself in frustration while having to deal with that unbelievably annoying student in the lecture theatre.
Anything involving Marty Feldman at all made the boy laugh. Anything he said, anything he did – in fact any screen time whatsoever devoted to Feldman made the boy laugh. The slower scenes are endured patiently, though I loved them.
Like me, the boy loves the way Feldman says “home” when we first see the Transylvanian castle. From now on, we’re only going to say that word the way Feldman said it. And of course, the notion of horses screaming every time Frau Blücher’s name is mentioned is as facile and stupid as it remains essentially hilarious. Man and boy both sniggering.
Kenneth Mars as the police chief with the mechanical arm and the east European accent so bizarre and extreme that his fellow villagers can barely understand what he’s saying didn’t provoke any audible mirth. I did point out to the boy that both Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars both ended up on Malcolm in the Middle and he was suitably impressed. But one of my favourite lines went unchortled when Victor screams at Igor to “pull the third switch” and Igor replies “Not… the third switch!” Some jokes depend on awareness of cinematic cliche. If you haven’t seen enough genre movies – they’re not going to connect.
The boy enjoyed the hermit scene though, as Gene Hackman helplessly pours hot fluids all over Peter Boyle. (Peter Boyle’s world weary breaking of the fourth wall is worthy of Oliver Hardy in this scene.) I’ve alway thought that Madeline Kahn was hilarious in the movie and I’ve always loved the railway goodbye scene in which the slightest intimacies threaten her fragile ensemble. She even ducks a blown kiss. The boy was less impressed.
Despite the fact that he wasn’t laughing at EVERY single scene I wanted him to, Young Frankenstein remains an inter-generationally agreed “one of the funniest films ever made”. This is the sociable joy of comedy. There’s a perverse joy in being the only person on earth to find a movie funny, but it’s nowhere near as important as hearing the laughter of others.
And, of course, the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number had him rolling about. Praise be. The late great Gene Wilder had to fight tooth and nail to retain that scene with Mel Brooks interested in just how hard Wilder would insist upon it.
Unlike Man of Feeling by Henry McKenzie, Young Frankenstein seems safe for a few more decades. The thought of such a comedy dying with my generation was an intimation of mortality too terrifying to contemplate.