Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Looking Back At Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein

(review contains spoilers)

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder struck comedy gold with this hysterical send-up of the horror classics Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.

Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974) has aged extremely well. It's still just as sharp, entertaining and hilarious as it was when it first appeared on the big screen nearly 40 years ago. It's without a doubt one of the funniest and well-crafted comedies ever committed to celluloid. Very few, if any, comedies released today will have the type of longevity and continued relevance that Young Frankenstein has enjoyed over the years. For the most part, today's comedies are a lot like fast food; they satisfy your appetite but are quickly forgotten after the meal is done. Not so with Young Frankenstein, as it's a five-star meal of a comedy that you continue to savor long after the credits have rolled.

Brooks Updates And Puts Comedic Twist On Horror Film Classic

The film stars Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a young neurosurgeon and a respected lecturer at an American medical school. He is the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who was vilified for his highly controversial reanimation experiments in which he attempted to bring the dead back to life. For years, Frederick has tried to live down his eccentric grandfather's much-maligned legacy. He believes his grandfather was mentally unstable and a disgrace. Frederick is so ashamed of his family name that he tells people that it's pronounced "Fronkensteen" instead of Frankenstein.

However, Frederick's negative view of his grandfather gradually changes after he inherits his family's estate in Transylvania. The estate houses the laboratory where his grandfather conducted his reanimation experiments. Before long, Frederick is continuing his grandfather's work in reanimation. And after many failed attempts, he successfully brings back to life a massive man, which he and his assistant, Igor, exhumed at the graveyard. Frederick's plan is to make his reanimated subject the perfect human specimen who possesses tremendous physical strength as well as superior intellect. Unfortunately, Frederick's experiment goes terribly awry when he learns that Igor mistakenly gave him a defective brain to put in the monster. The film follows Frederick's attempts to civilize his behemoth creation and even teach the monster a few dance steps and show tunes along the way.

Film Has Look And Atmosphere Of An Old Horror Film

One of the most striking things about Young Frankenstein is its look. Much detail and thought was put into the set design and photography to give the film an authentic classic horror movie look and atmosphere. Brooks shot in the same castle that the James Wales' 1931 classic Frankenstein was filmed. He also used the same electrical apparatus for the laboratory scenes that was used in the horror classic. Additionally, Brooks filmed the entire movie in black-and-white, and he used1930s-style opening credits as well as period scene transitions, such as iris outs, wipes and fades-to-black to give it that old classical look. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld and set decorator Robert De Vestel did a tremendous job on this film. Everything about the film was immaculately done, from the set design and cinematography to the costumes, the writing, the acting and the music score. Brooks' longtime composer John Morris provided the film's exquisite period score. The music evoked a classic horror film ambiance.

Film Boasts Incredible Cast

Brooks assembled a sensational cast for this film. The cast is uniformly strong down to the smallest roles. There are an inordinate number of stellar performances to be found in this film. Marty Feldman is flat-out brilliant as Frederick's droll hump-backed assistant Igor; Cloris Leachman is a howl as Frau Blücher, the strange caretaker of the Frankenstein castle; Madeline Kahn is extremely funny as Frederick's neurotic fiancée Elizabeth. With this role, Kahn illustrated what an amazingly gifted comedic actress she was.

Additionally, Wilder is terrific as the frazzled, slightly unhinged Frederick Frankenstein. And Peter Boyle does a great job at humanizing the monster with sly, knowing looks and hilarious double takes. His expressive face and body language convey so much that no words are necessary. And Teri Garr sets the screen on fire as Frederick's Swedish bombshell assistant Inga. In this role, Garr proved that she was not just another pretty face but also a very talented and funny actress. And Gene Hackman does a bang-up job in his cameo as a lonely blind man who befriends the monster. Brooks had so much confidence in his cast members that he allowed them to ad lib in a number of scenes, which greatly increased the spontaneity and humor of the film. And there are several other great supporting performances in the film.

Brooks and Wilder Capture Comedy Magic With Young Frankenstein

Brooks and Wilder collaborated on the film’s excellent screenplay, which is filled with clever one-liners and hilarious dialogue. The two manage to keep the story entertaining and interesting while continuing to deliver big laughs. In many comedies, the plot is just a vehicle through which comedians can do their funny shtick. However, in this film Brooks and Wilder take the plot very seriously and infuse it with not just very funny comedic scenes, but a great deal of emotion and pathos as well. With Young Frankenstein, the two have created a bona fide comedy masterpiece. The movie should be required viewing for any film student who has aspirations of becoming a comedy director or writer.

Young Frankenstein at Amazon

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