|Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein (dir. Mel Brooks, 1974); Una O'Connor as Minnie in Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1935); Celia Imrie as Mrs. Moritz in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 1994).|
Frau Blücher (cue horse whinny) doesn’t exist in the original Frankenstein novel. Nor do Ygor, Inga, and Inspector Kemp. They’re the burlesque inventions of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and cast (Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars), as immortalized in the 1974 film Young Frankenstein, a parody that testifies to the elasticity and openness of popular texts. In the two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel was first published the universe of Frankenstein has stretched to accommodate a wide spectrum of tones and themes and has perpetually reframed the relationships of its characters, much in the same way that long-running comic strips or TV shows inspire spin-offs and tie-ins, novelizations and fan fiction, web series and breakfast cereals.
Blücher derives from a comic-relief character invented for the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, a village scold named Minnie played by the great Hollywood bit-player Una O’Connor. With her thick Cockney accent and broad mug, Minnie seems to have wandered into the House of Frankenstein by way of an English panto. Four decades later Leachman and Brooks would reimagine Minnie as a loyal family retainer still carrying a torch for the late Dr. Frankenstein, possessed of a hatchet face and a knack for playing the violin. (Minnie’s Cockney accent gets passed to Ygor and is replaced with a German one, even though the film is set inexplicably neither in England nor Germany but in Transylvania—Dracula territory.)
It’s possible to trace the origins of Frau Blücher/Minnie back to a cipher of a character from the Mary Shelley novel named Mrs. Moritz, an ill-tempered servant employed by the Frankenstein family and the mother of the doomed Justine, the latter of whom (in one of Shelley’s many heavy-handed ironies) is unjustly blamed for a murder committed by the monster. The character of Mrs. Moritz gets much expanded in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film adaptation, in which her strained relationship with her daughter is used to elaborate the parent-child themes of the story. In the world of Frankenstein the monster is hardly the only one getting cut up and put back together again.