Forty years ago today, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein shuffled into theaters. The film was an instant success, earning both healthy box office figures and critical acclaim (even if it was of the guarded sort: “It would be misleading to describe Young Frankenstein… as astoundingly witty, but it’s a great deal of low fun of the sort that Mr. Brooks specializes in,” sniffed Vincent Canby of The New York Times). The movie went on to earn a pair of Oscar nominations, prime spots on scores of “best comedy” lists, and the reputation of being perhaps Brooks’ best film ever.
Young Frankenstein also happens to be one of the only Mel Brooks movies that doesn’t feature the director himself in either a supporting or a starring role. And according to Brooks, that was no accident: “That was the deal Gene Wilder had. He says, ‘If you’re not in it, I’ll do it,'” Brooks told The A.V. Club in 2012. “He says, ‘You have a way of breaking the fourth wall, whether you want to or not. I just want to keep it. I don’t want too much to be, you know, a wink at the audience. I love the script.’ He wrote the script with me. That was the deal. So I wasn’t in it, and he did it.'”