Is there a more perfect cast than that of Young Frankenstein? It’s the perfect storm of comedy, with the women working as a trifecta of funny. As a female entertainment writer, I look to these three women as immense inspiration. Any aspiring comedic actresses reading, start taking notes.
Cloris Leachman — I doubt there’s a more daring actress working today than Cloris Leachman. From occasionally going topless as the senile grandmother on Raising Hope to her sometimes not so graceful (but entertaining!) performances on Dancing with the Stars, Cloris is fearless. And here she is in Young Frankenstein, playing the suspicious old caretaker … and she never breaks character. Even when she’s offering Ovaltine to her new employer in the slowest, most suspicious tone possible, she is still in pure Frau Blücher (neigh) mode. And when she boldly declares her dark secret about Frederick’s grandfather (“He was … my boyfriend!”), your mind instantly goes to her and “Rictor” together — not the prettiest of pictures, but pretty damn hilarious.
Madeline Kahn — Madeline Kahn was to Mel Brooks what Grace Kelly was to Alfred Hitchcock. My heart broke when we lost Madeline in 1999. I was 14 and Young Frankenstein had been one of my favorite movies for years by that point. I actively watched Cosby simply because she was a regular. While she was brilliant in all of her Mel Brooks roles, her role as Frederick’s hard-to-get fiancee was the best. She’s in only a handful of scenes, yet she makes such a huge impact.
In Young Frankenstein, she represents so many of the unintentionally silly love interests in the old-time monster movies. What made Madeline Kahn special was how each of her characters in Mel Brooks’ films were a tower of confidence who eventually fell apart into unmatched levels of goofy — two contrasting traits that work in very funny ways when done just right. And she made it all look so effortless.
Teri Garr — Of the three women, I think Teri Garr gets the least credit for how funny she is in this movie. Yes, her character has major sex appeal, but Inga is so much more than a pair of knockers. There are plenty of great lines in this film, iconic lines that are recognizable by fans the world over, but there is one quote that comes to my mind instantly when I think Young Frankenstein — “Would you like a role in ze hay? It’s fun!” In a lesser actress, this joke would have come off bimbo-y. But not with Teri Garr! She kind of reminds me of Jewel Staite‘s Kaylee on Firefly — super sweet, but with a sexiness just under the surface and just the right comedic timing coming from the actress.
You also get the sense that this character is pretty smart (understanding Frederick’s scientific explanations), yet zany enough to keep up with the finely tuned silliness of Igor and the doctor. She makes use of every moment, not wasting a beat. More than anything, Inga often takes on the funny man role to the Frederick’s straight man. Think about it — “What knockers!” “Oh, thank you, doctor.”, “Elevate me.” “Now? Right here?” and of course “He vould have an enormous schwanzstucker!” “… That goes without saying.” I wish more female love interests in comedies had Teri Garr’s skilled sense of timing and irreverence.
Even in today’s world, naysayers question whether women can actually be funny. I present exhibit A: Young Frankenstein. If Garr, Kahn and Leachman can’t convince you, then you just don’t know funny.