My husband came home from a trip to Déjà Vu Discs, a store that buys and sells previously viewed movies and television shows, with a copy of Young Frankenstein. It’s a film he had seen on TV before, and since it was a cheap buy, he thought it warranted an encore viewing for him and a first time viewing for me.
Made in 1974, Young Frankenstein is a comedy directed by Mel Brooks. It’s a parody of the classic horror film based on Frankenstein, the novel by Mary Shelley. To pay homage to several of the 1930s film adaptations of the novel, Brooks shot the film entirely in black and white, something Columbia Pictures would not green light. This forced Brooks to take the film to 20th Century Fox who backed his vision.
Brooks was initially reluctant to make another film about Frankenstein since there had already been so many film adaptations made. It was leading man Gene Wilder’s idea to make the main protagonist ashamed to be connected to Dr. Frankenstein’s infamous work and to make the film a comedy. Brooks found Wilder’s premise for the movie funny and together they co-wrote the screenplay which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1975.
The film stars Gene Wilder as infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s legacy. He so desperately wants to distance himself from his family’s reputation and his grandfather’s experiments that he insists that his name be pronounced “Fronkonsteen.” When Frederick is informed that he has inherited his family’s estate, he reluctantly travels to Transylvania to see the property. Predictably, Frederick becomes intrigued by his grandfather’s work once there, and upon finding his grandfather’s private journals, decides to resume his work of reanimating the dead.
The supporting cast brilliantly infuses the film with silliness and hilarity and is, for me, what makes the film fun to watch. Marty Feldman plays Igor, the bug-eyed, hunch-backed servant at old Dr. Frankenstein’s estate with sharp sarcasm and perfect obliviousness. He mocks Frederick’s intentional mispronunciation of his surname by insisting that Frederick call him “eye-gor” not “ee-gor.” Among the best moments in the film is when Igor is sent to procure the brain of a deceased revered scientist for the creature that Frederick is creating, and instead returns with a diseased brain that had been labeled “abnormal.”
Teri Garr is delightful as Inga, the dim-witted, voluptuous assistant who serves as both temptress and aid to Frederick. The scenes with Frederick and Inga are rife with sexual innuendo and bawdy humour, as Frederick is very much aware and delighted by Inga’s physical assets.
The supporting cast is rounded out by the creepy housekeeper, Frau Blücher, played brilliantly by Cloris Leachman, the monster played by Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn’s scene-stealing turn as Frederick’s uptight fiancée, Elizabeth.
There is a lot to like about Young Frankenstein. The cinematography is masterfully shot in crisp and glossy black and white stock reminiscent of The Golden Age of Hollywood. The screenplay is wonderfully clever, witty and satirical, and the impeccable cast brings it to life with great comedic timing and physical humour (facial expressions, intonations, gestures, reactions.)
The humour is silly and even a little lame at times, but consciously so, which is part of what makes the film an effective parody. Much will be lost on you if you’re not familiar with Mary Shelley’s novel or with other film adaptations of the book. The fact that it’s a spoof-tribute makes a familiarity with the spoofed work important if one is to fully appreciate the film’s humour and satire. Its lapses into the cheesy and lame domain can get tiresome at times, and I found myself wanting the film to just get on with it towards the end, but there is much to appreciate and enjoy about Young Frankenstein. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth a one-time viewing, as my husband proved to me.