Looking Back at the Classics: Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed by: Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn
Rated PG

Poor Gene Wilder. He very rarely gets the credit he deserves for Young Frankenstein. If you asked 100 people on the street who the genius behind this film is, 99 would most likely say Mel Brooks, and they would be partially correct. However, the film is the brainchild of Gene Wilder, as it was his story idea that he developed into a screenplay with the aid of  Brooks. He had to fight to keep in the Putting on the Ritz number, arguably the most famous scene in the film, over Mel Brooks’ objections.

Of course, it’s hard to really feel bad for a man who was nominated for an Oscar for what might just be the greatest comedic film ever made.

Young Frankenstein tells the story of Frederick von Frankenstein (Wilder), a professor of anatomy and heir to the Frankenstein titles, land and fortune in Transylvania. Leaving his vain fiancé (Kahn, in a brilliant performance sadly overlooked by the Academy) behind to check on his new holdings, Victor is reticent to accept that he has any similarities to the grandfather whose experiments in reanimation terrorized an entire village. He finds his castle peopled by odd characters: Igor (Feldman), whose grandfather worked for Victor’s grandfather, Inga (Terri Garr), his laboratory assistand, and the mysterious Frau Blücher (Chloris Leachman).

While the film could be denounced as a series of sight gags and puns, these are highly intelligent puns and very funny sight gags. The physical comedy required by Wilder, particularly in his scenes with Peter Boyle as The Monster (the “charades” sequence comes immediately to mind), appear to be quite the workout before factoring in the fact that multiple takes must have been required to get the scenes just right. Everyone involved in the production, from the main cast to Brooks regular Kenneth Mars, is in top form and they play off one another brilliantly. There is also one highly respected actor who has a brief, but brilliant, cameo that I will not spoil even if most people know who I’m talking about. When I saw the film for the first time, his appearance surprised and delighted me. I would not want to take that away from any other first time viewers.

One of the major charms of the film is how, for the most part, it pays homage to the Universal Monster Movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Most of film was shot using the original Frankenstein (1931) laboratory equipment. Many of the scenes begin as direct lifts from sequences from that film. Of course, these scenes, without fail, end up in a differnt place than they started, but therein lies the humor. We want to see The Monster meet the litte girl by the well, but it’s not necessarily funny if he throws her in after her flowers are gone. It’s impressive that Wilder and Brooks were able to look at these set-ups and envision such humourous outcomes.

Over 30 years later, the film still holds up as one of the funniest films of all time.

Young Frankenstein claimed to be the Scariest Comedy of All-Time. Anyone else want to see it in a steel cage death match with Shaun of the Dead?

2 Responses

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  1. Written by arkonbey
    on 2010-05-17 at 20:21
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    To my mind, probably because of Gene's driving force, YF is the best thing to carry Mel Brooks' name.

  2. Written by Vizier
    on 2010-05-18 at 14:43
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    I always feel like a bad geek when I have to say that YF is low on my list of “favorite Mel Brooks movies”. It's quotable, and enjoyable, and has its moments, but as a whole is not quite the same for me as “Blazing Saddles” and “History of the World Part I” and others. Can't even place my finger on exactly what I don't like about it, either.

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