When Mel Brooks was preparing for this film, he discovered that Ken Strickfaden, who'd made the elaborate electrical machinery for the lab sequences in the Universal Frankenstein films, was still alive, and living in the Los Angeles area. Brooks visited Strickfaden, and found that he had stored all the equipment in his garage. Brooks made a deal to rent the equipment, and gave Strickfaden the screen credit he hadn't gotten for the original films.
The shifting hump on Igor's back was an ad-libbed gag. Marty Feldman had been surreptitiously shifting the hump back and forth for several days when cast members finally noticed. It was then added to the script.
Gene Wilder would only make the film if Mel Brooks promised not to appear in it. Brooks usually appeared in his own films, but Wilder felt that Brooks' appearance would ruin the illusion. Brooks made off-camera appearances as the howling wolf, Frederick's grandfather, and the shrieking cat.
Gene Hackman ad-libbed The Blind Man's parting line "I was gonna make espresso." The scene immediately fades to black because the crew erupted into fits of laughter. Hackman was uncredited when the movie was originally released in theaters.
Supposedly the scene which required the most takes to be filmed was the one in which Igor bites Elizabeth's animal wrap. The reason was because each time he did it he was left with a piece of fur in his mouth which caused the other actors to laugh hysterically.
Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks got into only one fight during the movie's production, but it was a big one with Mel throwing a huge temper tantrum, yelling and raging and eventually storming out of Gene's apartment (where the men had been working on the script). Roughly ten minutes later, Gene's phone rang. The caller was Mel, who had this to say: "WHO WAS THAT MADMAN YOU HAD IN YOUR HOUSE? I COULD HEAR THE YELLING ALL THE WAY OVER HERE. YOU SHOULD NEVER LET CRAZY PEOPLE INTO YOUR HOUSE - DON'T YOU KNOW THAT? THEY COULD BE DANGEROUS." That, as Gene later put it, was "Mel's way of apologizing".
In 1974 rock band Aerosmith took a break from a long night of recording to see this film. Steven Tyler wrote the band's hit "Walk This Way" the morning after seeing the movie, inspired by Marty Feldman's first scene, the "walk this way . . . this way" scene.
Mel Brooks initially thought that the "Walk this way" gag was too corny and wanted it cut from the film. But, when he saw the audience's reaction to it one night at a screening, he decided to leave it in.
When they started to film the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene, no one was sure what the creature should say. The first time out of the gate, however, Peter Boyle came up with a strangled version of "Puiinin on da reeez!"
The original cut of the movie was almost twice as long as the final cut, and it was considered by all involved to be an abysmal failure. It was only after a marathon cutting session that they produced the final cut of the film, which both Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks considered to be far superior to the original product. At one point they noted that for every joke that worked, there were three that fell flat. So they went in and trimmed all the jokes that didn't work.
Teri Garr originally auditioned for the role of Elizabeth, the fiancée, while Madeline Kahn, was the front-runner for Inga, the assistant. But Kahn ultimately decided she'd rather play Elizabeth, leaving director Mel Brooks with the task of recasting the Inga role. Undaunted, he called Garr in and told her that if she could come back the next day with a German accent, he'd like her for the part. She looked at Mel and said, "Vell, yes, I could do zee German ackzent tomorrow - I could come back zis afternoon" and the part was hers. Garr has said that she based her accent on Cher's wigmaker whom she worked with on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971).
Mel Brooks says that when Columbia Pictures realized he wanted to shoot the film entirely in black and white, it was so opposed that Brooks took the project the very next day to 20th-Century Fox, where the much more accommodating Alan Ladd Jr., who had no problem with this idea, had just taken over.
The brain which Igor is sent to steal is labeled as belonging to "Hans Delbrück, scientist and saint." There actually was a real-life "Hans Delbrück"; he was a 19th-century German military historian and professor at the University of Berlin, notable for going beyond technical problems and linking warfare to politics and economics. His son Max Delbrück was a 20th-century biochemist and Nobel laureate.
The experiment the medical student mentions, where Darwin preserved a worm in fluid until it came to life, is mentioned in Mary Shelley's foreword to the novel "Frankenstein." The Darwin in question was Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the famous Charles Darwin.
Gene Wilder constantly cracked up during takes. According to Cloris Leachman, "He killed every take [with his laughter] and nothing was done about it!" Shots would frequently have to be repeated as many as fifteen times before Wilder could finally summon a straight face.
Gene Wilder conceived the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene, while Mel Brooks was resistant to it as a mere "conceit" and felt it would detract from the fidelity to Universal horror films in the rest of the film. Wilder recalls being "close to rage and tears" and argued for the scene before Brooks stopped him and said, "It's in!" When Wilder asked why he had changed his mind, Brooks said that since Wilder had fought for it then it would be the right thing to do. But it was only when he soon saw the musical number along with a howling audience that Brooks was finally confident about the sequence.
When the monster is being brought back to life, the area around his eyes (and what appears to be his teeth) begin to glow. This was done with a plastic head created to look exactly like that of Peter Boyle. Some fake teeth, fake brain tissue, and a light were used to create the effect.
Igor mentions that his grandfather (also named Igor as evidenced by Frederick's first visit to the lab) used to work for Frederick's grandfather. Interestingly in the original Frankenstein (1931) film the assistant's name was Fritz. Igor (spelled Ygor) did not appear until Son of Frankenstein (1939) where he worked for the son of the original Doctor.
Throughout the shoot, Mel Brooks would offer Gene Wilder directing advice, knowing of his ambitions to do so. Wilder reminisced, "Mel would say, 'Do you know the trouble I'm in because I didn't shoot that close-up? Don't do that.' I would say, 'To whom are you talking?' 'You, when you're directing.'"
While Madeline Khan is brushing her hair, she sings, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". According to Mel Brooks' DVD commentary, they picked that song for her to sing because it was in the public domain.
According to Mel Brooks, the studio tried tricking him into shooting the film in colour. "They said 'Okay, we'll make it in black and white, but on colour stock so that we can show it in Peru, which just got colour. 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 colour. It's gotta be on... black & white thick film."
After the first set of dailies, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder asked director of photography Gerald Hirschfeld what he thought. Overall Hirschfeld was pleased however Brooks was not, saying that the film should satirize the look of the old Universal horror films. Gene Wilder came to the flabbergasted Hirschfeld's defense saying, "Mel, we never told him that that's what we wanted. He's replicating it but we want to poke fun at it." Hirschfeld made some changes and the next set of dailies was more successful.
At the 1975 Golden Globe Awards, Cloris Leachman was nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy/Musical, while Madeline Kahn was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for their work in this movie. However, Kahn has more screen time than Leachman.
While Mel Brooks didn't appear in this film, there is a gargoyle "that looks suspiciously familiar." It is in the very last scene and can be seen on the far left after the camera pulls back from Igor playing the French Horn. It may not be visible in pan-and-scan versions.
Cloris Leachman, on NPR's "Fresh Air" on June 3, 2009, claimed that Mel Brooks told her that the name of her character Frau Blücher resembles the word for "glue" in German, hence the reason for the horse whinnies. If he really said this, then he was pulling her leg as was his habit. "Frau Blücher" bears no resemblance to any known word for glue in any German dialect, whether formal or slang. Frau means Mrs. and Blücher is a very common name, essentially equivalent to Jones. According to supplementary information on the DVD the horse's terror at her name is meant to show that she is a terrible and frightening person and, according to Gene Wilder, "Lord only knows what she does to them when no one is around". On the other hand, they react to the name, not her presence, weakening this idea. One idea has been proposed that the name reminds them of an incident in the career of Prussian Field Marshal Gebhardt von Blücher, where his horse died under him in the war of 1815. Or maybe it's just a silly gag with no meaning at all.
The Blind Man scene includes parts where we see the monster having hot soup poured on him and getting his thumb lit on fire. To keep himself protected, Peter Boyle had a hot pad on his lap, and he held a fake thumb with alcohol on it to keep the fire burning.
It's been rumored for many years that the scene where Frederick accidentally stabs himself with a scalpel wasn't in the script, and that Gene Wilder accidentally did it for real but continued the scene. This is false. In fact, if you look closely enough, you can see the square patch under Wilder's pant leg which the scalpel was meant to stab.
While this film is a loving tribute to Universal Pictures Frankenstein franchise of 1931-1945, the musical number "Puttin' On The Ritz" uses Irving Berlin's revised lyrics of 1946 rather than the racially insensitive original lyrics.
The Broadway musical version of Young Frankenstein starring Roger Bart as "Dr. Frederick Frankenstein" and Shuler Hensley as "The Creature" opened at the Hilton Theater, New York City on November 8, 2007. It closed on January 4, 2009 after 29 previews and 485 performances.
The periodical that Dr. Frankenstein reads while on the train is "The Lancet", which, at the time, was a highly respected peer-reviewed medical journal. It is more famous now for having published and subsequently retracted an article linking autism to the MMR vaccine.
Mel Brooks wanted at least $2.3 million dedicated to the budget, whereas Columbia Pictures decided that $1.7 million had to be enough. Brooks instead went to 20th Century Fox for distribution, after they agreed to a higher budget. Fox would later sign both Gene Wilder and Brooks to five year contracts at the studio.
"Charles Opie, MISSIONARY", is on the third brain on the shelf. Credit Paul Mulik for the following: It seems that there was a graphic artist named Charles Opie who had previously worked as a preacher. The artist who made the labels for the brain jars was a buddy of Opie's, so he put the name on the label as an inside joke. Apparently Charles Opie didn't find out about it until many years later.
Madeline Kahn was a gifted singer and studied opera. In "Young Frankenstein", she sings completely in key. However, in Blazing Saddles (1974) as Lili Von Shtüpp, she purposely sings off key, which is quite difficult for an experienced singer.
According to her autobiography, "Shirley, I Jest", Cindy Williams was cast as Elizabeth for a while. Madeline Kahn was originally cast as Elizabeth, and then she started having a scheduling conflict with another movie she was filming and had to bow out. So Williams, who had also auditioned for Elizabeth, stepped in and took over the role for awhile. Then Kahn's schedule cleared up, Mel Brooks fired Williams and replaced her with Kahn.
At one point in the film when Frederick is about to kiss Elizabeth, she says, "No tongues." Gene Wilder took that line so literally that he held his tongue and didn't move it at all, even after they stopped filming the scene, he still kept his tongue still.
The two lab assistants are named Igor and Inga. Inga is the feminine form of the old Swedish name Ingvar or Ingmar. The Russian name Igor is, according to some linguistic scholars, a corruption of the same name.
Mel Brooks considers "Young Frankenstein" the best film he ever directed, but rates it #3 among his funniest - after "Blazing Saddles" (1974) and "The Producers" (1968). Brooks confirmed these views in interviews celebrating his 90th birthday in 2016.
Although Mel Brooks is said to have not appeared in this film other than some off-screen dialogue and sound effects, the conductor on the train as it pulls into the Transylvania station sounds strangely like him.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Due to make-up continuity problems, certain shots in "The Blind Man" scene had to be re-shot. In the shot where The Blind Man spills soup on the Monster, the "Hand" spilling the soup actually belongs to director Mel Brooks, not Gene Hackman.