Monday, August 29, 2016


Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): "Igor, help me with these bags."
Igor (Eye-gore)(Marty Feldman): "You take the blonde, I'll take the one in the turban."

Noting the passing of actor Gene Wilder.

He was, even the few times he played lead, perpetually the "other guy." Even in Young Frankenstein, ostensibly the central role as the monster's (Peter Boyle) creator, he was overshadowed by a vaudeville-performing back-from-the-dead beast, a buxom assistant and a servant whose hump seemed to change sides with each scene. His acting style could be, well, manic. Wild hair, eyes wide, he didn't so much deliver lines in that personae as scream them.

He was a veteran, drafted into the US Army in the 1950's. He served for several years, mostly as a medic at a military hospital in New York City. He pursued acting, took classes, and began a career that found him in some of the most interesting movie projects of the 60's and 70's. The Producers found him as an accountant who comes up with a brilliant idea - defraud stage-play investors with "Springtime for Hitler," a production so bad it would close on its opening night. He was nominated for an Academy Award.

That was his first Mel Brooks movie, but not his last. He played a perfect sidekick in Blazing Saddles, the white "Waco Kid" alcoholic gunfighter to Sheriff Bart, an African-American railroad worker sent to certain death as the sheriff of Rock  Ridge. The Waco Kid was suave and worldly, and could shoot lights out when he'd had a bit of the hair of the dog.

My friend John and I went to see Young Frankenstein at the theater, mostly on a whim. From the opening credits to the final scene ("Oh, sweet mystery of life...") I couldn't stop laughing. It was broad humor, childish at times and enlightened at others. There is the shrewish princess of a fiance (Madeline Kahn), a Germanic and comely laboratory assistant (Terri Garr) and the shrunken but roguish Igor (Marty Feldman). The brilliant, eccentric Kenneth Mars's Inspector Kemp delivered, in high dudgeon, lines like "He vill curse the day that he was bern a Frankenstein," with such a thick accent that the crowd could never understand him.

Wilder wrote the screenplay for Young Frankenstein, his second Academy nomination. It is high-minded genius. The monster comes to life, but begins to strangle its creator. Wilder is reduced to a game of charades, finally getting Garr and Feldman to understand. Igor triumphantly proclaims "Give him the sed-a-give!" Sedated at last, Boyle slumps to the floor.

"Sed-a-give?!" Wilder screams.

Maybe you have to be in the right mood. Maybe it has to be your genre. It was genius, brilliantly written, exquisitely over-acted, shot in black and white as an homage to all of the horror movies we watched as kids.

Wilder died today of the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

I know there were other roles, and other facets to his varied life. But, Young Frankenstein... 

Well played, sir. 

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