Young Frankenstein (1974)
Young Frankenstein (1974)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: December 15th, 1974 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Mel Brooks Actors: Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn

 


 

A

t the stroke of midnight, a prized box (containing a will) is snatched from the coffin of Baron Victor von Frankenstein. Shortly thereafter, it’s brought to a school 5,000 miles away, where Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), the grandson of the famous grave-robber, re-animator, and all-around cuckoo, conducts a class on motor impulses (voluntary versus reflexive). “Dead is dead!” he exclaims after a student questions his lack of an inherent curiosity in bringing the dead back to life. Surely the idea intrigues the relative of the legendary mad scientist.

Drawn by the information in the testament, Frederick makes the lengthy journey to the Transylvania station, to be greeted by the hunchbacked Igor (Marty Feldman) and laboratory assistant Inga (Teri Garr), and then ferried to the magnificent Castle Frankenstein. Further off-the-wall characters and situations await, including icy housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), easily disturbed horses, melancholy music emanating from the walls, and secret passageways hidden behind bookcases. And everything is covered in dust and cobwebs. “It might be dangerous. You go first.”

Right from the start, the humor is abundant, with comical conversations, light slapstick, and players continually on the verge of breaking character for one-liner jokes (the subsequent reactions are remarkable, too, pausing on confused stares to amplify the ludicrousness of random commentary). Even Madeline Kahn as Frederick’s fiancee Elizabeth, despite only having a brief appearance at the beginning, manages humorous – if nonsensical – exchanges. But it’s Feldman who steals the show during the first half, getting to deliver the silliest of the verbal jests and the best of the visual pranks (his protuberant, askew eyes, perpetually darting back and forth, are perfect for the role). Meanwhile, Wilder’s proclivity for unrestrained hysterics, alternating between quiet observation, wailing speeches, and deafening outrage, is equally as fitting. “Give my creation life!”

Following along with Mary Shelley’s classic horror yarn, Frankenstein is destined to artificially resurrect a monster, here embodied by Peter Boyle. Although laced with laughs, there’s a certain grandness – from the sets to the props – to the recreation of the crazed doctor’s experiments. But the focus is always on guffaws, as the grandeur quickly shifts to inane interpretations of the standard storyline – including respected inspector Kemp (Brooks regular Kenneth Mars), seemingly derived from a twist on Dr. Strangelove; the innocent little girl who throws flower petals down a well; and the lonely blind man (Gene Hackman) hungry for companionship.

Following along with writer/director Mel Brooks’ skillful blending of physical comedy and musical parody, “Young Frankenstein” boasts excellent pratfalls, laugh-out-loud exclamations, in-jokes with the audience, and a “King Kong”-like stage presentation – which transitions into a song-and-dance number with top hats and coat tails and unexpected shrieking. In the worlds of Brooks, characters tend to croon whenever they have a chance. Though it’s fueled by memorable moments of dippy lampooning, it also carries on a touch too long; it’s quite funny but ultimately not as polished as it could be.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10