Film Review: Young Frankenstein
In 1974, Mel Brooks released the comedy film Young Frankenstein, based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and parodying the other films based off the work. Starring Gene Wilder (who also co-wrote the film), Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman, and Madeline Kahn, the film grossed $86.2 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Sound and Adapted Screenplay as well as the Golden Globes for Best Actress –Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and the WGA Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium, it won the Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Direction, Best Supporting Actor, Best Makeup and Best Set Decoration and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Physician and lecturer Dr. Frederick Frankenstein constantly tries to disassociate himself from his family name. However, after he’s told of an inheritance to the estate in Transylvania, he must travel to Europe for an inspection of the property. There, he becomes increasingly intrigued by the work of his great-grandfather from which he tries so hard to get away. And eventually, he decides to resume the work.
One of the most well-known and perhaps the most quotable of Brooks’ work, Young Frankenstein is one of those films where the humor strikes early, often and only lets up at the film’s end. It seems that comedy seems to follow Frederick wherever he goes, from accidentally stabbing himself with a scalpel when making a point and having a fiancé that doesn’t ever want him to touch her to meeting an assistant that has such a simple mind as to mistake the word “abnormal” for the name “Abby Normal” and doesn’t seem to be aware of the large hump on his back, but who seems to have a keen sense of self awareness in other situations, such as when meeting Frederick for the first time and questioning him on the validity of mispronouncing one’s name. And apart from the accidental scalpel stabbing, there is a lot of unexpected physical humor in the film as well, such as Igor telling Frederick to walk this way and then expecting him to take the path in the same exact manner. But the best example of the physical humor comes after Frederick has awoken the monster and he runs off to a blind hermit. The amount of abuse the hermit accidentally puts upon the monster and Boyle’s exasperated facial expressions really make the scene one of the funniest in the film. It could have only been followed up with the “Puttin on the Ritz” scene that comes after it, making a great display of unexpected humor.
Further, many of these funny moments actually weren’t planned at all, which is a testament to the amount of comedic talent that worked on the film. In the aforementioned scalpel scene, the stabbing wasn’t scripted and Wilder actually stabbed himself, stayed in character and kept going. Boyle also ad-libbed the Monster’s outbursts during the “Puttin’ On the Ritz” scene. Also, it’s notable that one of the best remembered running gags in the film, where Igor’s hump keeps changing positions, wasn’t originally in the script either.
Yet, two of Brooks’ comedic staples are barely in the film. It seems that there’s only one very subtle instance of the film breaking the fourth wall, found when Frederick says he’s going to accept the failure with “quiet dignity and disgrace,” only to break down in a fit. Igor looks at the camera and repeats the phrase. Further, Brooks himself doesn’t appear at all in any point throughout the film, which was an agreement that he had made with Wilder. Ironically, the lack of blatant fourth wall breaking and Brooks’ cameos does well in making this one of his better films.
Another reason why the film is so well made and such a fun film to watch could possibly come from how the entire cast and crew had such a fun time in making it. So much so that Wilder kept trying to add scenes just so they didn’t have to finish filming. It really shows that when love for an art form is present in putting a project together, it bleeds into the work itself. That love for making the film really turned the product into a great and well-made film.
That and the fact that Brooks actually took the idea to 20th Century Fox after Columbia refused to let him shoot it in black and white. He wanted his send-up to classic films to be the real deal. And it was.
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