Title: Young Frankenstein
Language: English, German
Director: Mel Brooks
Music: John Morris
Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld
Oscar Beregi Jr.
My third Mel Brooks’ comedy, after HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (1981) and HIGH ANXIETY (1977), and I daresay it is his best! It is a monochrome homage to Frankenstein’s monster franchise and magnificently crafted as a whole new parody with a sterling cast. Unfortunately I haven’t watched any of Universal’s classical horror series, so it is nonviable for me to discern how the homage aspect proceeds, nevertheless, it doesn’t hamper my appreciation of this film.
Wilder is Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (the self-claimed pronunciation is Fronkensien), a medical professor in America, whose grandfather is the notorious mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, is lured back to inherit his family estate in Transylvania, but as a scientist himself, Frederick is strongly repellent towards his grandfather’s doings. After meeting his bulging-eyed hunchback servant Igor (pronounced “eyegore” here), who is played by a pronounced Feldman, the desirable personal assistant Inga (Garr with a ludicrous German accent) and the frosty housekeeper Frau Blücher (the haughty and drolly Leachman), he finds out the private journals left by Victor about the reanimation of dead tissues, cannot resist the temptation, he carries out a plan to reanimate his creature (Boyle), only later he is aware that the brain he uses in the transplantation is an abnormal one.
Then, the storyline flickeringly stretches over the creature’s encounters with a little girl and a blind hermit (a genuinely side-splitting episode with an uncredited Hackman) after his escape, then Wilder and Brooks’ script takes a drastic turn to introduce Frederick and the creature’s live-performance of Irving Berlin’s musical number “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, which ends badly and the creature is captured, but it is pure fun.
Frederick’s fiancée Elizabeth (Kahn) arrives uninvited, and her consistent refusal any physical intimacy with Frederick in the name of keeping her chastity before wedding night, is comically disintegrated by sheer phallicism in front of the creature. And she bells out a riotous “Sweet mystery of Life” during the intercourse, with some splendid vocal inflections. Brooks opts for a merry finale for both Frederick and his creature, they both exchange some part of their advantages to each other and eventually, they can go out for a pleasant double date.
Gene Wilder is priceless, superbly casts his deadpan humour with visceral gags, sometimes he is even affective. The sparkling chemistry between him and the scene-stealing Feldman using wisecracks and slapsticks can effectively crack viewers up (from the “walk this way” spoof and on). Boyle’s monster, although the make-up team is substandard, you can literally see the paddings and fake stitches in his head, is never ferocious or deliberately harmful, he is a slow-witted newborn has the primal fear of fire and fond of the euphony of violin, the caricature never transcends into scare-fest. Kahn and Leachman are two staunch comediennes, each clings to the stereotyped characterisations and builds on their own zest and zingers, so is Garr, but in a less vivid role as the bimbo and Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp, who is extensively lampooned for one stiff limb and inarticulate elocution.
The cinematography and production design are sublime thanks to its retro polishing, the film holds extremely well for a first viewing 40 years later, it is a favourable comedy can be thoroughly enjoyed without any abashment in hindsight which prevalently resides in most of our present-day low-taste offerings, just go and watch “the scariest comedy of all time!”