Directed by Mel Brooks
Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks; based on characters in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Cast: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Chloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, and Kenneth Mars
Length: 1 hour and 46 minutes
Genre: Comedy, parody
MPAA Rating: PG
Description from IMDB:
“An American grandson of the infamous scientist, struggling to prove that he is not as insane as people believe, is invited to Transylvania, where he discovers the process that reanimates a dead body.”
After the death of his great grandfather, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) takes a trip to Transylvania, where his infamous grandfather, Victor Frankenstein, first created his monster. He meets Igor (Marty Feldman), a servant whose family has always served the Frankensteins, and a lab assistant named Inga (Teri Garr). While exploring the castle of his forebears, he discovers the secret library of his grandfather, as well as the notes that allow one to reanimate dead tissue. Frederick decides to try the experiment again and, after a mix-up on Igor’s account, accidentally places an abnormal brain in the body of a large, dead man. The operation is a success and the creature (Peter Boyle) becomes violent, running away after attacking the group of companions. Frederick believes there is good in the monster and sets out to recapture and tame his creation.
Though the film is a comedy at its heart, it takes a change of pace on the myriad of Frankenstein sequels by following the story of a newer generation of Frankenstein (the man, not the monster). We meet Frederick while he is giving a lecture about the brain, where he tries to distance himself from his lunatic grandfather by pronouncing his last name as “Fronkensteen.” He concerns himself with the preservation of life, not the reanimation of what is dead, though this is merely a conscious attempt to leave the shadow of the last famous Frankenstein. However, the search for immortality is within his bloodline, as is the alluring melody that Frederick hears his first night in the castle. This music speaks to the soul of the creature as well, and is used in order to lure him back after his escape. The intertwining of these two elements shows the influence of fate and destiny that Frederick is trying to escape, as we hear during a nightmare he has. The film strikes a fine balance in its study of character, its new take on the classic horror story, and the comedy Mel Brooks is known for.
Young Frankenstein (1974) is filled to the brim with goofy one-liners and schticks. From the sarcastic comebacks and cracks that Igor makes, to recurring gags, the movie makes light of a dark tale. The caretaker of Frankenstein’s castle, Frau Blücher (Chloris Leachman), is not only creepy in her appearance, but every time her name is spoken, the cries of horses can be heard in the background to heighten the villainous temperament of her character. Igor gives Frederick a hard time about how he pronounces Frankenstein, asking if his first name is pronounced “Froederick” and saying his own is “Eye-gor.” Igor is also very literal; when Inga hears a wolf howl and says, “Werewolf!” Igor replies, “There! There wolf!” He also accidentally drops genius the brain meant for the creature and grabs a replacement marked “abnormal;” when the creature goes mad and must be sedated, he tells Frederick that it was the brain of someone named “Abby Normal.” Igor breaks the fourth wall to provide snide comments and reactions to the audience, pointing out the obvious gags. This isn’t to say that he is the only comedic character in the film. Frederick apparently thinks the best way to demonstrate the reanimated functions of the creature’s body is to do a tap dance performance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Though it does falter story-wise due to the same deus-ex-machina style ending as Blazing Saddles (1974) , Young Frankenstein (1974) reigns in much of the campiness Mel Brooks is known for in favor of a more poetic parody of the horror movie genre. It was shot in black-and-white in order to mimic the early horror films of the 1920’s and 30’s, and Wilder came up with the idea to reinvigorate the Frankenstein story by adding a twist that would separate it from all the other sequels and related films. I believe this is one of the funniest movies ever created and that the performances of the cast absolutely shine. Every major and minor character has their moments, from the lonely blind man played by Gene Hackman to Kenneth Mars’s one-handed Inspector Kemp. Brooks stayed behind the camera in this film which lends the full attention of the audience to Wilder’s appropriately melodramatic performance that creates an entertaining tale of enjoyment to light up the days of October darkness.
Verdict: 5 monstrous parodies out of 5
Recommended for: Children with parental supervision, Mel Brooks fans, fans of Gene Wilder, fans of Frankenstein’s Monster, people with a sense of humor, fans of parody, those who know Frankenstein was the doctor, and you!
Not recommended for: Children without parental supervision, the easily frightened (it’s not scary at all), horses, people who dislike movies in black and white, those without a sense of humor, or those who dislike classic movies.