2016 has been a rough year. We’ve lost so many iconic and legendary artists and entertainers these past few months, the latest being the one and only Gene Wilder. Wilder is a comedy icon, and has brought so many beloved characters to life, like Willy Wonka, Leo Bloom from The Producers, and the Waco Kid from Blazing Saddles. All of those roles are unique and special in their own way, but one of Wilder’s most iconic and beloved roles is Dr. Frankenstein in Mel Brooks‘ Young Frankenstein.
The fact that Wilder is so well-known and loved for that role is really a testament to his amazing comedic chops. If Wilder weren’t as strong of an actor, his performance would have been completely overlooked in the face of Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blucher, Peter Boyle’s monster, and the incomparable Marty Feldman as Igor. Those three were complete scene-stealers, and made Young Frankenstein the mega-hit that it is today. In many of his scenes with them, Wilder had to play the “straight man” to those outrageous characters. Well, as much of a straight man as you get in a Mel Brooks comedy.
Still, Wilder was able to stand out in that field of comedic giants with his spot-on sarcasm and comedic timing in addition to participating in some of his own over-the-top comedic hijinks. His dry, often confused reactions to Igor’s ever-moving hump are hysterical, watching Dr. Frankenstein calmly question Igor about the brain from “Abby Normal”, and the most hilariously frustrating game of charades ever make Wilder’s performance just as memorable as zany Marty Feldman’s.
Of course, this is a Mel Brooks film, so some madcap humor was definitely required of Wilder, and he more than rose to the occasion. He was brilliant in scenes that required him to dance and sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with his monster. He delivered abundant laughs after Inga accidentally smushed him behind a trap door hidden in a bookcase. He even stabbed himself in the leg in the middle of an impassioned speech.
Wilder’s comedic performance in Young Frankenstein is golden. He’s able to move effortlessly between dry, sarcastic humor right into zany and over-the-top slapstick. Gene Wilder was just a genuinely funny man, and this role showed it.
Of course, what makes Wilder’s version of Dr. Frankenstein so memorable isn’t just how hilarious he is. Wilder also manages to make you care about Frankenstein. Even though he’s a bit off-putting with his passion, Wilder makes us believe that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is really just trying to make his own way in the scientific world, and separate himself from his controversial family name. His scientific experiments may be sketchy and pretty unethical, but Wilder doesn’t just make Dr. Frankenstein a punch line. He makes you care about him as a person, and in a weird way, you almost want the guy to succeed. Being legitimately funny is hard, but taking a funny character and making him someone an audience cares about it even harder. Wilder makes it look easy in Young Frankenstein.
The world has truly lost an amazing actor, the likes of which we’ll surely not see again for a long time. Thankfully his humor lives on in films like Young Frankenstein, but I think knowing the man who brought Dr. Frederick “Frahnk-en-steen” to life isn’t out there anymore is a bit of a heartbreaking thought. You will truly be missed, Mr. Wilder.
What are your favorite Gene Wilder moment from Young Frankenstein? Tell us in the comments.
Feature Image: 20th Century Fox