The original Frankenstein back in 1931 was a milestone in the horror genre back in the early days of cinema, and even today it remains a mostly faithful adaptation to Mary Shelley’s epic. That being said, there’s certainly a lot of room for parody. A rogue monster composed of multiple cadavers, created by a mad scientist, and a less than handy assistant is already pretty laughable. When you add the genius of director Mel Brooks, and the endless wit of star/writer Gene Wilder it can surely only lead to good things. But is Young Frankenstein the perfect monster? Or simply an abomination? Read on to find out…
First of all, in the very first few minutes Young Frankenstein establishes itself as a smart parody in a very simple way. It takes place generations after the original, with Gene Wilder playing Dr. Frankenstein (It’s pronounced Froonkensteen!), the grandson of the original mad scientist. This reserves the integrity of the original, while allowing the outdatedness to be its own joke. This serves a much better purpose than sheerly just sullying something for a few laughs, especially when that something is a highly regarded film, and a piece of classic literature.
Mel Brooks drives the film with his patented blend of comedy. Two parts physical humor, one part recurring jokes, fill the rest with unexpected quips, and character jibes. Gene Wilder proves to be particularly funny as the unlucky scientist, along with his estranged assistant Igor as played by Marty Feldman. I just lose it when I hear the ‘Abby Normal’ dialogue; ‘are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?’
Speaking of gorillas, Peter Boyle also deserves praise for his tickling portrayal as everyone’s favorite lumbering monster. Not quite as good as his other iconic role though, Frank of Everybody loves Raymond fame. Actually thinking of it… Everybody Loves Frankenstein’s Monster? Now that’s a sitcom.
I’d have love to have given Young Frankenstein just a toast, but there’s a part that certainly needs some amber courage to get through. That’s the ending. Let’s start with the fact that Young Frankenstein, and Brook’s Blazing Saddles have basically the same ending with the whole ‘Theatrical Laughs’ jokes. Considering they came out the same year, this is a really minor pet peeve of mine.
In addition there just aren’t many laughs at the end. It makes you forget that you enjoyed Young Frankenstein in the first place. The whole b-movie brain swap thing is an interesting idea, but not one that’s overtly amusing. I don’t like to say it, but it just kind of derails in the last 20 minutes. Plus there still could have been some form of catharsis. Frankenstein goes on to own a flower shop? Or something?
Young Frankenstein is a mostly hilarious comedy, that pays homage to a fantastic novel, and film. Particularly the campy and ridiculous nature of the sequels that spawn from it. I fear its lack of consistent hilarity pales it in comparison to Brook’s more celebrated comedies like Blazing Saddles. But Young Frankenstein is still good for a hearty laugh, from horror fans particularly. I think I’ve had enough of Gene Wilder screaming like a mad scientist through my speakers for a long while though.
Do a Shot: Every time Gene Wilder says ‘It’s pronounced Froonkensteen!’
Take a drink: Every time the Nazi inspector does some weird crazy wooden hand thing.
Take a drink: Every time Igor addresses the camera.
Take a drink: Whenever you ever so slight you wish you were watching Blazing Saddles instead.
Chug your beer: When Frankenstein’s monster gets jiggy.