I’ve heard it said that while Blazing Saddles is Mel Brooks’ funniest film, Young Frankenstein is his best. I have to agree with both parts of that statement, with no offence to either films. Young Frankenstein is still hilarious while Blazing Saddles is on another level of side splitting fun. But spoofing the much loved classic horror genre is a balancing act not to be taken lightly and Brooks pulls it off perfectly. In fact, the screenplay he and Gene Wilder wrote for Young Frankenstein was Oscar nominated.
The story focuses on Victor Frankenstein’s grandson, Frederick, portrayed by the amazing Gene Wilder. Frederick is a doctor trying to distinguish himself and step away from his grandfather’s mad scientist reputation. When he journeys back to Castle Frankenstein, home of his grandfather’s infamous experiments, the compulsion to repeat Victor’s experiments is overwhelming. Soon he’s created a monster, and we’re happy to watch and laugh.
To truly spoof old classic horror movies, like Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and others, there’s only one mode to go in: rich black and white. The photography looks back at classic scenes from these movies perfectly. The laboratory scenes are a visual high point in the film. In fact, some of the old electrical equipment is from the original Frankenstein film from 1931. Brooks was lucky enough to borrow it.
What makes Young Frankenstein so entertaining are the jokes. From something as simple as Marty Feldman’s perfectly executed Igor with bulging eyes, to a frightened horse neigh every time a certain character’s name is said, there are a variety of hearty laughs. I love Inspector Kemp’s clickety wooden arm and moments where no one can understand him. The Puttin’ On The Ritz scene is hysterical. Terri Garr’s Inga rolling in the hay makes me laugh every time. And Igor’s hump mysteriously switching sides cracks me up and catches a first time viewer off guard.
My favorite scene is when The Monster happens upon a lonely blind man, played by Gene Hackman. The whole gag is based straight out of a scene Bride of Frankenstein, where the blind man welcomes the monster into his home and tries to be a good host. One clumsy blind man and a monster who can’t speak adds up to the funniest few minutes of the film. Peter Boyle’s performance as the monster shines here.
Young Frankenstein is the kind of film that can satisfy many tastes for October fun. It’s not very scary at all, but the classic monster movie aesthetics can satisfy any horror fan. The jokes are so wonderfully balanced that kids and adults can enjoy it together. And the cast’s performances are so fun, silly and yet rooted in respect for their classic counterparts. It really is Mel Brooks’ best film.
“Wait! Where are you going? …I was going to make espresso.”