Now, if you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to. Why don’t you go where fashion sits…
Mel Brooks is one of the most famous and popular comedy directors of all time, and now that Young Frankenstein has recently returned to theatres, it is appropriate and exciting to talk about one of his finest works.
If you were lucky enough to catch a screening of this hilarious horror film, you will know that Mel Brooks himself appears before the film begins and gives a short introduction. He discusses all of the fond memories he had making this particular feature in 1974, how the idea came about and how deeply he misses his close friends who worked on the film with him, including Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle. Not only was this introduction amusing yet poignant, it also felt necessary considering how much time has passed since the film’s initial release.
The idea of parodying the horror genre, especially by putting a spin on the story of Shelley’s Frankenstein, is brilliant on its own. But when you have actors like Gene Wilder working alongside a comedy great like Mel Brooks, the film was destined to be something special. Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (or Fronkensteen, if you are willing to accept the character’s claims). The grandson of Victor Frankenstein, Frederick believes that his grandfather was “cuckoo” and that the notion of bringing a dead creature back to life is preposterous.
However, once Frederick learns that he has inherited his family’s estate, he decides to travel to Europe to inspect it. Along the way, he meets the wide-eyed servant named Igor (Marty Feldman) and a beautiful laboratory assistant called Inga (Teri Garr). Once Frederick and his new companions discover Victor Frankenstein’s lab, Frederick is overcome with inspiration and states that he will attempt to continue what his grandfather started: experimenting to bring the dead back to life. But, of course, this is a Mel Brooks film, so you can expect the situation to go horribly wrong in a clever comedic fashion.
From the opening title sequence alone, you would not expect that Young Frankenstein would be such a zany and wacky film. Shot in black and white, dramatic music plays over visuals of a dark, mysterious and intimidating property. This leads the audience to believe that this is going to be an unsettling horror picture, much like the many film adaptations of the original Frankenstein story. But once we see a solicitor comedically try to remove a box from the hands of a dead man, you are immediately aware that Brooks defied your expectations and made a film that does not take itself seriously.
While the humour is lighthearted and witty, that is not to say that the people who worked on Young Frankenstein did not take the project seriously themselves. On the contrary, the actors gave some of the best performances of their careers. Gene Wilder is hilariously loud, frantic and rather deranged as the main character. His performance has an unpredictable nature, adding to the fun of the film, as you are never really sure when the character is going to have a booming tantrum or shout at his slow-witted assistants. Feldman is incredibly loveable as Igor, and the female characters played by Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, and Madeline Kahn, respectively, provide a lot of the amusing sexual innuendos that will fly over the heads of young children, and Peter Boyle is extremely memorable as the sympathetic, if sometimes aggressive, creature.
The film simply has a lot of charm to it. Not only does it have a great script, full of wordplay, sarcasm and crude jokes, it also contains wonderful performances, Brooks’ hysterical visual humour and a gorgeous score. Anyone who has seen the film will remember the immensely entertaining “Puttin’ On the Ritz” musical number, but the often overlooked “Transylvanian Lullaby” that Frederick uses to lure in the monster throughout the film provides Young Frankenstein with an unexpected emotional core. There is an element of tragedy to this musical piece, almost as if the characters are aware of the consequences that come with taking science too far; Brooks did not just want to make you laugh, he wanted you to care for these characters.
Young Frankenstein is now 43 years old, and it still resonates with audiences today because of its timeless humour and the clear effort that everyone involved put into this project. I dare you to watch the bookcase sequence, the discussion about “Abby Normal” or the game of charades without laughing at least once. Chances are, you will fail.
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