Young Frankenstein (1974)
“The scariest comedy of all time!”
Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman
Synopsis: Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, after years of living down the family reputation, inherits granddad’s castle and repeats the experiments.
The first thing that strikes you about Young Frankenstein, Mel Brook’s madcap parody of the Universal horror movies of the 1930s is the movie’s marvellous recreation of the Gothic sets. Even though the movie is set in the 20th Century, Transylvania, which provides the location of the castle of the deceased Baron Frankenstein, remains firmly in the 19th Century, with horse-drawn carriages trundling through ominous forests en-route to gloomy castles. The two souls being transported by a hunchback called Igor (Marty Feldman) whose hump has an unsettling habit of shifting sides on his back, are University Professor Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced ‘Fronkensteen’), the Grandson of the notorious Baron and comely local maiden Inga (Teri Garr).
Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is on his way to claim his inheritance, but has no intention of continuing his ancestor’s profane experiments — until, that is, he stumbles upon the Baron’s lab equipment (which is, in fact, the actual props used for the original Universal Frankenstein movie) and his journal, and is gripped by the urge to create human life. He and Igor exhume the body of a recently executed criminal, but when Frankenstein sends Igor to steal the pickled brain of a ‘saint and scientist’ the hunchback clumsily drops the required one and substitutes it with a brain labelled ‘Do Not Use — Abnormal.’ Needless to say, when the monster is eventually re-animated he doesn’t initially behave in the way that Frankenstein would have hoped.
1974 was a good year for Mel Brooks — hot on the heels of his classic Western Blazing Saddles came this affectionate parody of vintage horror movies. Young Frankenstein might (just about) retain a more conventional plot structure and remain within the confines of its own world rather than invading others in the way that Blazing Saddles did, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Wilder, wearing the exaggerated make-up of a silent movie star, over-acts outrageously, and it’s a stint that does grow a little tiring after a while, but his hang-dog, frazzle-haired demeanour is perfect for that of a comically-crazed scientist. He’s backed by a worthy supporting cast led by bug-eyed Marty Feldman who seems to have been born to play the role of Igor. Terri Gar makes a fetching heroine, but is outshone by the wonderful Madeline Kahn who is once again woefully under-used by Brooks. Rumour has it that she was originally pencilled-in for the Garr’s role, but was savvy enough to realise that the part of Frankenstein’s vain fiancee was a role more suited for her comic talents. Young Frankenstein might not match Blazing Saddles for sheer off-the-wall lunacy, but it probably delivers the kind of laughs which can continue to hit the spot after repeated viewings.
(Reviewed 25th May 2014)