Sunday, November 2, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Young Frankenstein

Hallowe'en's over. Time for the costumes to be put in storage, the candy-wrappers thrown in the trash, and grocery aisles cleared of big bags o' candy. Time also to shake the cob-webs out of our souls, and as Mel Brooks will tell you, the best way to deal with something that scares you is to laugh at it.

The Set-Up: When Gene Wilder (and Mel Brooks) decided to do a burlesque of "Frankenstein," there were all sorts of tropes to draw on from the Universal series canon. The crazy villagers, the odd maid, the teutonic burgomeister. And from James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein," they took the blind hermit scene. This did not appear in Gene Wilder's original script. This was a collaboration between Wilder and Brooks, taking all of the aspects of the original scene and turning it into a schtick-filled, slapstick classic. As the Monster, Peter Boyle mines the most out of what few lines he's allowed, and in this scene he's allowed to break "the fourth wall" a bit, and give the Creature a bit more on the ball than a script has given him before.

Then, there's the Hermit, Harold. Although the actor playing him isn't listed in the credits, it's Academy Award winner Gene Hackman, doing something he rarely got to do as a "serious" actor: comedy. And he's brilliant at it, with a comic timing and a breezy way of delivering his lines as if he was making them up on the spot. He and Boyle must have had a tough time not cracking up through this scene, because both men are hilarious...and the split-second.

The Scene: The Monster (Peter Boyle) has escaped from Fronkensteen's castle, and is running lose. Deep inside the dark forest, a humble cottage sits--the home of Harold the Hermit (Gene Hackman). As a plaintive melody plays on his record player, he kneels by his bed with his rosary, asking for an answer to his prayers.


Harold: A visitor is all I ask. A temporary companion to share a few short hours in my lonely life.
Whip-pan as The Monster bursts through the door.

Monster: R-AAAAHR!!
Harold: Thank you, Lord! Thank you!

The Monster growls
Harold: No, no, no, don’t speak! Don’t say a word! Oh, my joy and my prize from heaven.
Harold: I’ll bet you were the tallest one in your class! My name is Harold and I live here all alone. What is your name?
Monster: Hrrnnn.
Harold: I didn’t get that…
Monster: Hrrnnn.
Harold: Hrrnnn... Nope. Oh! Forgive me! I didn’t realize you were mute. You see how Heaven plans. Me, a poor blind man and you...and you, a mute... incredibly big mute.
Harold: Ah, but your hand is frozen, my child. How does a nice bowl of soup sound to you, huh?

The Monster nods
Harold: Yes, well...I know what it means to be cold and hungry, yes, and...and how much it means to have a little kindness from a stranger. Are you ready for your soup?

As Harold talks, the Monster holds out his bowl, but Harold being blind, keeps moving the ladle, eventually pouring steaming hot soup into the Monster's lap.

Harold: Hold out your bowl, then. Oh, my friend, my friend, you don’t know what your visit means to me…
Harold: long I’ve waited for the pleasure of another human being. Sometimes in our contemplation of worldly matters....

Harold: We tend to forget the simple pleasures....
Monster: RRRAAAAAAAAH!!! (whimper)
Harold: ...are the basis for true happiness. Yes yes yes! Oh! And now, a little wine with your soup?
Monster: MMMMMM
Harold: Good, good.
Harold pours the wine into The Monster's mug, no problem

Harold: Yes, yes, good, good.
Monster: MMMMMMMMM! (The Monster is about to drink when..)

Harold: WAIT! Harold: A toast! A toast…
Harold: friendship. (CRASH!)
The Monster can't believe it...looks to Heaven
Harold: How hungry you must have been...and now, now for a little surprise. For a special occasion, I’ve been saving...
Harold: ...cigars!
Monster(suspiciously): RRRMMMMMM

Harold: Take one.
The Monster takes a cigar, then Harold, and Harold moves the candle over to light it. The Monster reacts in fear.
Harold: No, no! Fire is good! Fire is good, yes! Fire is our friend! Yes, I’ll show you. I’ll show you. You see? You see? Do you have your cigar? Let me see. Let me see.
Harold: All right. Now, now. Just hold it right there. Now. Don’t inhale until the tip glows.
Harold lights the Monster's thumb, who waits a beat to see if he's enjoying it. He's not. He's in great pain.

Enraged, the Monster rushes out of the hermit's cottage, breaking through the door. Harold calls after him.

Harold: Wait! Wait! Where are you going? I was going to make espresso!

Young Frankenstein

Words by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks

Pictures by Gerald Hirschfeld and Mel Brooks

Young Frankenstein is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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