#117 Young Frankenstein
(1974, Mel Brooks)
“He’s got a rotten brain!”
If you went into this movie without knowing much about Mel Brooks, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a sequel to the numerous Frankenstein movies of the thirties and forties. The opening credits are, frame-for-frame, a spot-on homage to the entire genre, and it’s easy to be fooled.
The plot follows suit. What we have here is the grandson of Dr Frankenstein from the original movies decrying his ancestor’s work, and trying to distance himself from the legacy. But when he receives an invitation to Frankenstein’s castle, it becomes apparent that it’s hard to escape destiny and that human experimentation seems to run in the family, as the young Frankenstein begins to make his own monster.
So, a dark psychological movie about the advancement of science for the sake of it, and asking philosophical questions about the nature of fate and genetics? Oh, silly me, Mel Brooks directed it, which means it’s not that at all. It’s a parody. Gene Wilder plays the titular scientist, and the same overdramatic acting skills that made his portrayal of Willy Wonka so iconic is used to great effect here to deliver Brooks’ trademark goofy jokes in a backdrop ripped straight from the Frankenstein franchise.
And it is a goofy movie. The opening scene where Frankenstein gives a lecture on the nervous system is accompanied by an elderly volunteer incapable of hopping off a table and Wilder stabbing himself with a scalpel by accident then trying to play it off as if no one saw it. And the humour just escalates from here. Some of it is silly, some of it is genuinely clever, but it’s all mixed in together in such a way that the laughs don’t stop coming.
Having said that though, there are some issues with the humour at times. There’s a tendency to overplay some of the gags, such as when Igor (Marty Feldman) highlights the joke about Frankenstein handling his first failure with “dignity and grace”, and the bookcase/candlestick scene feels longer than it needs to be for the single joke it contains. I also really didn’t care for the musical scene with the monster attempting to sing, but that’s a bias against musical sequences in comedies on my part. And I genuinely could have done without the “Bride Of Frankenstein” sex scene, which just felt embarrassingly childish and not all that funny.
Apart from these niggles, however, Young Frankenstein is the perfect example of a parody done right. It’s affectionate to its source material (to the point of tracking down the original lab equipment props from the original Frankenstein) and features a legitimate plot to hold the jokes together. It may not always succeed, but it does seem to have something to make most viewers laugh. I’m sure there are some people who find the musical scene funnier than I did, for instance.
What’s more, it’s clear that everyone involved was having a great time. Gene Wilder yet again flexes his comic muscle, and his over-the-top delivery works just as well here as it did in Willy Wonka, but he’s also supported by a team of great people. Marty Feldman was clearly having way too much fun playing the utterly silly Igor (pronounced “eye-gore”), and Teri Garr is delightfully dense as the typical brainless eye-candy blonde playing a scientist type. Gene Hackman also pops up at one point playing a very clumsy blind man, and it’s easily the best scene of the movie (that’s my Favourite Scene section sorted then). And, of course, Peter Boyle as the Monster is brilliant, managing to convey a comic performance without any actual dialogue for much of the movie.
Young Frankenstein is certainly one of Mel Brooks’ better comedies, and the fantastic performances and sheer attention to detail in relation to its source material mean that it’s also one of the best comedies ever made full stop.
Starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn & Gene Hackman
Written by Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder
Produced by Michael Gruskoff
Music by John Morris
Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld
Edited by John C. Howard
Favourite Scene: Gene Hackman plays a blind man who pours hot soup into the monster’s lap and then lights his thumb on fire thinking it’s a cigar. Amazing.
Scene That Bugged Me: The musical sequence. The one-note joke of the Monster not really being able to sing is trotted out for far too long in an otherwise unimpressive sequence
Watch it if: You’re a fan of the Frankenstein movies and want to make light of them
Avoid it if: Your sense of humour needs resurrecting