1974 - PG - 108 Mins.
|Director: Mel Brooks|
|Producer: Michael Gruskoff|
|Written By: Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder and Mary Shelley (novel|
|Starring: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Gene Hackman |
|Review by: John Ulmer
"The scariest comedy of all time!" boasted the poster taglines for "Young Frankenstein." When a tagline pokes fun at itself, you know you're in for a real treat. Such is the case with Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," one of the greatest of all comedies and one of the only modern day films able to convince me from the start that I really was watching an old 30s film, and not a film made in 1974.
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder are both fans of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and so when they collaborated to write the screenplay for "Young Frankenstein," I can only assume that it was a fun experience for both of them. They reworked the story of Frankenstein and his monster into a smart, occasionally hilarious, always enjoyable, classic comedy that helped put Brooks on the map after "The Producers" ("Blazing Saddles" also helped quite a bit).
Some fans of "Frankenstein" could consider the film almost sacrilegious, I suppose, but that wouldn't be fair. It's not a poke at any flaws in "Frankenstein" -- it's a well-thought-out continuation of Baron von Frankenstein's legacy, with an added pinch of slapstick comedy thrown in for good measure.
Gene Wilder is Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("Frahnk-un-steen," not "Frank-en-steyn"), grandson of the crazy old loon Baron von Frankenstein, who attempted to re-animate dead matter in his creepy mansion in Transylvania years ago. Frederick is a successful neurosurgeon, eager to put his past behind him. When a student asks him questions about his grandfather and research into re-animation, he is quick to change the subject.
Then he inherits his grandfather's castle in Transylvania and makes the long, weary journey there to acquire ownership. Greeted by Igor (pronounced "Eegor," not "Eyegor"), Frederick Frankenstein is soon haunted by his grandfather's interests. I guess the craving for re-animating dead tissue is just something that runs in one's blood!
He stumbles upon an old chamber underneath the crumbling mansion, home to an assortment of odd inventions and textbooks (including "How I Did It," by Baron von Frankenstein, which is a bit of an in-joke for readers of Mary Shelley's story -- they'll understand the joke, perhaps, more than most audiences).
After finding a dead body in a graveyard and accidentally inserting an "Abby Normal" brain into it from the help of Igor (Marty Feldman), Frederick Frankenstein creates a new Monster (Peter Boyle), who is taken into custody by the townspeople and then escapes, finding an old blind man (Gene Hackman) in a cabin somewhere. He then kidnaps Frederick's bride to take her as his own and Frederick realizes that he must put an end to the Monster before everything in his life falls apart.
There isn't much to say about a film like this. The comedy works, the style works, everything about it works. It's classic. Everything in it is classic Mel Brooks comedy.
I suppose the accounts of Brooks' and Wilder's off-screen fights during filming are pretty well known. In one instance, Brooks got so mad at Wilder that he threw an object at him. Later he called Wilder and said, "Who was that jerk that threw that thing at you today? He should be fired!"
It was because the two minds clashed together. Both being extreme fans of "Frankenstein," I suppose both men had their own unique opinions as to what, exactly, the film should be about, and what, exactly, should happen in it. But for whatever the reason, despite all their arguments the film has turned into a masterpiece.
Wilder's performance is extraordinary. After turning Leo Bloom ("The Producers") into a nervous, paranoid, timid man, Wilder does a 180 here and makes Frankenstein into a self-assured, mean, forthright character -- giving us the feeling that he's been hassled his entire lifetime by nosy reporters researching into his grandfather's case, and he's tired of it.
Filmed on-location in the original "Frankenstein" set, the film partly works because of its respect for the old horror films. The famous Universal horrors from the 1930s and 40s are spoofed in this film, and that is primarily is what truly makes it stand out from the other films in the genre. But Brooks and Wilder don't insult them. They compliment them and poke fun with them -- not at them.
Brooks tried this formula once again in 1995 with "Dracula: Dead and Loving it!", which starred Leslie Nielsen as Count Dracula, although the outcome was not as smart as "Young Frankenstein" and not as convincing. Brooks did a great thing by filming "Young Frankenstein" in grainy 30-style black and white, reminiscent of old films such as "Dracula" or "The Wolf Man" or "Frankenstein" itself (not coincidentally, Brooks makes more than a few references to other Universal horror films, too). Part of the greatness of this film is the manner in which it is filmed. I can't imagine "Young Frankenstein" in color. But then again, I can't really imagine "Spaceballs" in black and white...