I’ve been meaning to watch “Young Frankenstein” for years. When I was younger – and more foolish – I think I was put off by the fact it was in black and white. Given how much I loved “Blazing Saddles”, “To Be Or Not To Be” and “High Anxiety” it’s the only explanation I can come up with, so Moon In Gemini’s ‘The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen’ Blogathon provided me with the perfect opportunity to correct this oversight.
The adventure didn’t start well as Googling Young Frankenstein streaming online initially returned opportunities to watch “Young Sheldon” thanks to an overkeen autocomplete which assured me that, if nothing else, Google doesn’t know nearly enough about me as I may have feared. With that oversight corrected, I quickly discovered that the movie wasn’t available to stream [legitimately] for free and so I had to actually get up and go to the shelf, open up the Mel Brooks box set and put the disc into the Blu-ray player, like some kind of primitive. Still, one must suffer for one’s art, I suppose.
Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) has spent his life trying to distance himself from the legacy of his grandfather Victor but when he is informed that he has inherited his family’s estate in Transylvania, he reluctantly agrees to inspect the property, leaving his fiancée Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) behind. Greeted by Igor (Marty Feldman), Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) and Inga (Teri Garr), Frederick soon finds himself drawn into recreating his grandfather’s work of reanimating the dead, culminating in the creation of a new monster (Peter Boyle).
Whereas “Blazing Saddles”, 1974’s earlier collaboration between Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder had been a bawdy, knock-about spoof, parodying Western movie (and a few other genres’) tropes, “Young Frankenstein” eschews base parody and emerges more as an irreverent homage to James Whale’s original “Frankenstein” and “Bride Of Frankenstein”. Brooks used the same props, the same set and locations and shoots the entire thing in black and white, using period appropriate camera techniques. As such, it’s arguably his most technically accomplished film and, like “Dracula: Dead And Loving It” still hinted decades later, suggests that comedy’s gain may have been horror’s loss in his career as a director.
Co-writer Gene Wilder is at his exasperated, mercurial best as Frederick Frankenstein, struggling with the pronunciation – and legacy – of his famous name in equal measure and he’s almost outshone by a scene-stealing Marty Feldman as the unmissably mischievous Igor, cementing the humpback assistant trope for all time as part of the Frankenstein myth. Peter Boyle makes for a great, lumbering creature mute save for some great expressive work and an unexpected speech at the end.
Frequent Brooks collaborators Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn along with Teri Garr and Kenneth Mars round out a great cast that also includes an inspired cameo from Gene Hackman as a lonely blind man who briefly befriends the creature.
Whatever the reason for my having overlooked the film for so long, I’m glad I finally got around to it after having caught up with the classic Universal Monster movies because while “Young Frankenstein” isn’t as frantically laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of Brooks’ other work, there’s a consistently well-observed wry humour wound fondly through it. Oh, of course, it has its moments of silliness and some of the gags are incredibly corny but they’re staged in such a way as to blend in authentically into the 1930s filmmaking ambience. The ending, though, is pure Brooks and the eventual fate of both the creature and Doctor Frankenstein deliver the biggest laughs of the film.