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Young Frankenstein (1974)

January 26th, 2006 · 3 Comments

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Brilliant neurosurgeon Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) discovers that no matter how many times he corrects students on the pronunciation of his name (“That’s Frahnk-en-steen!”), he’ll forever be in the shadow of his infamous grandfather, Victor.

When Frankenstein learns that his grandfather’s journal has been discovered and he has inherited Victor’s castle and belongings, his takes leave of absence from his sexually repressed fiancée (Madeline Kahn) and heads to Transylvania to confront his heritage.

He’s greeted by a man with a shifting humpback named Igor (Marty Feldman, whose antics steal the movie), a buxom lab assistant named Inga (Teri Garr) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the castle’s mysterious housekeeper whom the horses are frightened of. Rousted from sleep by eerie music coming from within the castle, Frankenstein stumbles on his grandfather’s secret library and his notes on those legendary experiments, cryptically titled How I Did It.

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Young Frankenstein attempts to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps by reanimating the dead, and directs Igor to steal the brain of Hans Delbruck, “scientist and saint.” Igor drops the brain and instead, returns with one labeled “Abby Normal.” After implanting it into the body of a giant (Peter Boyle), hilarity ensues.

Directed and co-written by Mel Brooks, with an original screenplay by Wilder, Young Frankenstein is definitely not the laugh riot that Blazing Saddles was, but it is an inventive film with a lot of comedy in it. With this picture and Silent Movie, you could see that Brooks was actually growing into a filmmaker. His later comedies suffered from weaker and weaker scripts and casting, but here, he was at his creative peak.

The cast is one for the ages. Feldman – who died in 1982 on location for Yellowbeard when shellfish poisoning caused a fatal heart attack – is generally the best thing in the film, with his rolling bug eyes and strategic wisecracks getting most of the laughs. Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Peter Boyle are all terrific throughout, while Gene Hackman, not generally the best of comedians, gets yuks as a blind hermit in one of the best unbilled cameos of all time.

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The black and white look of the film, lit by Gerald Hirschfeld, conjures a terrific sense of nostalgia and play, and this cast has a terrific time with the material. Yeah, a lot of this stuff feels about as fresh as a knock knock joke – when Igor directs Frankenstein to “Walk this way,” Wilder mimics Feldman’s funky gimp – but the movie definitely has its charm.

I got the feeling that Wilder and Brooks didn’t really see eye to eye on what kind of movie this was supposed to be. Wilder has a bleeding heart affection for things like Sherlock Holmes or Universal horror movies of the ’30s, while Brooks seems too eager to lampoon of the genre every chance he gets. It’s not a very consistent tone.

Brooks has said of all of his films, Young Frankenstein is his favorite. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of Marty Feldman, while Blazing Saddles is by far my favorite Mel Brooks film.

 

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Angela // Sep 9, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    While I love this movie, I agree that Marty Feldman totally MAKES the film. W/out him, it wouldn’t be as great…or great at all really, it’d be sorta funny but not as unique imo.

    ~angela~

  • 2 Marilyn // Mar 31, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I really enjoy this film as an example of old vaudeville made relatively new. Feldman, yes! Easily the best of a great cast.

  • 3 Kenn // Jul 31, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    There are very few films around where you find people able to recite the entire dialogue – Rocky Horror, Withnail & I, Holy Grail and, certainly, Young Frankenstein.

    Its beauty lies in its ability to marry comedy with some real suspense. Its magic is in the cast. Gene Wilder was never better before or since; the great Madeline Kahn; the brilliant Marty Feldman; the underrated Terry Garr; the insane Kenneth Mars; the quietly expressive Peter Boyle; and, of course, the absolutely amazing Cloris Leachman. And let’s not forget Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks’ writing.

    This is perhaps the last Mel Brooks film worth seeing. If I had to pick 10 desert island films, the top three would be The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

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