‘What Hump?’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About Mel Brooks’ ‘Young Frankenstein’
You’d be hard-pressed to find any “Best Of” comedy horror list that doesn’t feature Mel Brooks’ iconic 1974 spoof/tribute to Universal’s monster movies (specifically, 1931’s Frankenstein), Young Frankenstein. This parody came from the mind of Gene Wilder and would go on to live in infamy as the one with the funniest hump joke in cinematic history.
Read on about the making of this Brooks classic, and find out why the director doesn’t have a cameo in this one…
The Movie Birthed an Aerosmith Song
Steven Tyler and the band thought Igor’s iconic “Walk this way” gag was hilarious, and the Aerosmith frontman used it to write a song about horny teenagers. According to Rolling Stone, however, he left the lyrics behind in a cab after leaving the screening of Young Frankenstein but luckily remembered most of it and penned it in the studio the next day.
A Lot of Special Effects
Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld wrote on his website that “Young Frankenstein incorporated more photographic and special effects than any other film I’ve ever worked on. The range was tremendous, from trick candle effects to 500,000-volt electrical discharges, from low-hanging fog to torrential rain. Chases, explosions and fire of past films seemed like child’s play by comparison.”
Creating the Prosthetic Body
Peter Boyle (who played Frankenstein’s Monster) did not play dead in his character’s creation scene. Instead, the production team built an impressive replica body to handle the long shoot and all the effects. “In the script, the monster is exposed to a 500,000-volt electrical discharge,” Hirschfeld wrote. “Peter Boyle was not about to lie still for that. Bill Tuttle made a fiberglass cast of Peter’s face and shoulders, and that’s what was used as a realistic dummy.”
“To render the creation of life more weird,” the cinematographer went on, “Bill enclosed within the fiberglass casting some secret ingredients that resembled brains, skull and teeth, and when the self-contained lights within the skull were pulsed by working a dimmer control up and down, the madness of the creator, Frankenstein, became more visually exciting.”
The Studio Wanted the Movie to Be in Color
While Columbia Studios wanted the film to be shot in color, Brooks felt that the classic black-and-white effect would best capture Universal Studios’ original monster movies. Columbia tried to trick Brooks into making the movie their way. “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,’” Brooks remembers. “And I said ‘No. No, because you’ll screw me. You will say this, and then, in order to save the company, you will risk a lawsuit, and you will print everything in color. It’s gotta be on black and white, thick film.”
It Was Gene Wilder’s Idea
Brooks said that it was on the set of Blazing Saddles that Wilder told him of his monster movie idea. He had been writing down notes in the sun, and after Brooks invited him into his trailer, Wilder shared his idea about the grandson of Victor Frankenstein who inherits the castle while initially wanting nothing to do with his family lineage.
Why Brooks Doesn’t Show Up in ‘Young Frankenstein’
The director, known for making cameos in his films, refrained from doing so in Young Frankenstein after his lead actor/co-writer convinced him not to. In fact, Wilder only agreed to star in the movie if the director didn’t appear on screen. “I said, ‘Am I such a bad actor?’” Brooks remembers. “(Wilder) said, ‘No, but you’re always breaking the fourth wall, and you’re always surprising, and there’s a lot of anarchy in you. I don’t want it to be a crazy comedy. I want it to be a real movie with natural comedy.’ I said, ‘You’re absolutely right. That’s the way we’ll do it.’”
Brooks did, however, insert his voice by means of some solid werewolf howling.
The Scene Wilder and Brooks Butted Heads Over
Brooks, believe it or not, did not care for the film’s iconic performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “I would write all day, and then (Brooks) would come over after dinner and look,” Wilder explained on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. “And one night he came over, and he looks at the pages and says, ‘You tap dance to Irving Berlin in top hat and tails with the monster? Are you crazy? It’s frivolous.’ And I started to argue, and I argued for about 20 minutes until I was at least red in the face — I think it may have been blue. And all of a sudden, he says, ‘Okay, it’s in.’”
Wilder, properly flabbergasted by then, asked Brooks why he pushed against the idea just to give in so abruptly, to which the director replied: “Because I wasn’t sure if it was right or not. And if you didn’t argue for it, I knew that it would be wrong. But if you really argued, I knew it was right.”
The Other Reason for the Black-and-White Movie
Brooks reasoned that if they were going to make the movie in color, they would’ve had to make the monster green. “We said, ‘If we make the monster green, it’ll be (like) a Halloween mask,’” Brooks recalled via Parade. “It will not have the gravity. It won’t have the depth. It won’t have the power of the James Whale movie (Frankenstein).”
A Shoutout to a German Historian
Hans Delbrück’s brain — which gets transplanted into Frankenstein’s Monster — is a reference to the German military historian who lived in the 19th century and wrote theories and hypotheses on warfare.
Props from the Tribute Film
As the movie is, by Brooks’ description, a “salute” to the 1931 Frankenstein, the director was able to use props that were from the original.
Almost Not Starring Madeline Kahn
It’s hard to imagine someone other than the great Kahn star as Elizabeth, Frederick Frankenstein’s fiancée. However, Kahn had to be convinced to join the production after Brooks decided he wanted her for the role and not singer/dancer Teri Garr.
The On-Set Affair
Garr, of course, would instead be cast as Inga. The actress and Wilder would get caught up in a love affair both on- and off-screen.
The Cinematographer, Too, Wasn’t Sure About the Black-and-White Effect
“At first, I balked at the decision to do the film in black and white,” Hirschfeld admitted, “suggesting that perhaps we start in black and white, as the film opens in old-time Transylvania, and then segue into color as we go to modern-day Baltimore to meet young Dr. Frankenstein. But the director was firm, and I soon realized, as I progressed more into the feeling of the film, that he was 100 percent correct.”
The Movie Was Turned Into a West End Musical
A story with a limited setting, over-the-top characters and its own musical number to boot? Of course, Young Frankenstein would end up working perfectly as a stage musical adaptation. Brooks wrote the musical himself, which premiered in Seattle in September 2007.
So Many Deleted Scenes
A smorgasbord of equally delightful scenes was cut from the original movie to keep the running time down. But thanks to the internet and the film’s cult status, these scenes are now available for public consumption.