Young Frankenstein – Review
An American grandson of the infamous scientist, struggling to prove that his grandfather was not as insane as people believe, is invited to Transylvania, where he discovers the process that reanimates a dead body.
We are 7 days in to our KOween 31 Days of Halloween feature and, today, we are taking a look at the incredible Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder horror comedy Young Frankenstein. I felt we should lighten the mood a little after a week of serious horror.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire KO-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Young Frankenstein is a love letter to the Universal Pictures horror movies of the 1930s. Directed by the incredible Mel Brooks with a screenplay cowritten by Brooks and lead actor Gene Wilder. Young Frankenstein stays true to the presentation of the 1931 movie Frankenstein.
The story sees a young Frederick Frankenstein, who is currently working as a lecturing physician at a university, travel to Transylvania. Frederick, played by Gene Wilder, is the grandson of the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein. Frederick has spent his life attempting to distance himself from the actions of his grandfather. He insists his name is pronounced “Fronkensteen” and becomes furious at the mere mention of his grandfather.
A solicitor arrives at the university to deliver news to Frederick. His great grandfather has passed away and Frederick has inherited the family castle in Transylvania. Frederick decides to head to Transylvania to examine the estate. Frederick arrives at Transylvania by train. At the station he meets his grandfather’s former servant’s son Igor (pronounced Eyegor), played by Marty Feldman, and Inga, played by Teri Garr.
Walk This Way
The three head to the castle. After spending some time at the estate, Frederick stumbles on the entrance to his grandfather’s secret lab. Realising that his grandfather’s research proves that reanimation of the dead is possible. Frederick sets out to finish what his grandfather started.
Frederick (or is it Froderick?) and Igor dig up the massive corpse of a recently executed prisoner. Hoping to reanimate the corpse with a genius mind, Igor is sent to retrieve the brain of recently deceased scientist Hans Delbrück. Startled by his own reflection, Igor drops the jar containing the brain. Not wanting to return empty handed, Igor collects a brain in a jar labelled “Abnormal” and returns to Frederick. Frederick reanimates the corpse, complete with the “Abnormal” brain and what follows is 40+ minutes of horror comedy gold.
A Break from the Norm
I don’t typically cover horror comedy but Young Frankenstein represents the absolute pinnacle of the genre. I think I can make an exception for it. It’s nice to mix things up every now and then and what better way than with Young Frankenstein? Perhaps the greatest horror comedy of all time.
Young Frankenstein is not just a comedy movie, however. It is a fantastic horror movie in its own right. Young Frankenstein shows a love and affection for the classics of the horror genre. It also nails that classic horror feel in a way that most modern horror would be envious of. The mood and atmosphere perfectly encapsulates what made classic 30s horror so good.
There was no detail too small for Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder when trying to achieve this feel. The sets are constructed using the exact Kenneth Strickfaden created props from the original 1931 movie Frankenstein. The movie is filmed in black and white and uses traditional swipe transitions and fade to blacks. The opening and closing credits are styled in the same manner as 30’s movies and the film is scored in the style of the period. It is as authentic as authentic can get for a movie made 40 years after the time period.
It goes without saying that Young Frankenstein’s incredible cast are exceptional. Every side role is played brilliantly. There isn’t a weak link in the entire film. This is a bold statement given the comedic timing required by all of the actors but nobody seems at all out of place.
Gene Wilder plays his role with almost no hint of irony. There is no wink and a nod to the viewer at home here. Wilder loses himself in the role of Frederick and plays it as if the movie is completely serious. This works brilliantly with Marty Feldman’s slightly farcical Igor. Wilder is the perfect straight man.
Marty Feldman, as Igor, is absolutely fantastic. Marty suffered from Graves’ Ophthalmopathy which caused his eye to protrude. Obviously this had to be implemented in the plot for comedy value. This leads to a bunch of early laughs and some consistent running jokes. Feldman stands out from the rest of the cast and is the heart and spirit of Young Frankenstein.
Marty loves to break the fourth wall and, in turn, provides the bulk of Young Frankenstein’s laughs. He was obviously an incredibly talented comedian and his casting here, in retrospect, seems like a genius turn. Unfortunately, Mel Brooks does not make much of an appearance in Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder insisted on Mel Brooks not being in the movie. He claimed Mel had a way of winking to the camera and taking the audience out of it. I do agree with this but Marty Feldman seemed to take on that role and it didn’t damage the film at all.
It is impossible to talk about the fantastic cast without mentioning Peter Boyle’s performance as The Monster. Peter Boyle was an actor capable of both dramatic and comedic roles. He manages to apply both of these traits to his performance in Young Frankenstein. Boyle brings a sympathetic element to the character that really has you invested in him. He’s less of a monster and more of a tragic person condemned to evoke fear in the people around him. Obviously this was something implied by the original story of Frankenstein but Peter Boyle does it so well it bears mention.
Mel Brooks = Tons of Laughs
This is a Mel Brooks movie so, if you like that type of humour, Young Frankenstein is obviously going to be funny. Whereas it may not be the funniest of Mel Brooks’ movies, I would say it is by far the best. The combination of laugh out loud moments and genuinely excellent dramatic performances combine to make something very special. Young Frankenstein has very much stood the test of time, as well. There is nothing quite like it and with each passing year it feels a little more special.
Scenes featuring The Monster are far funnier than you may expect. A recreation of a scene from the original 1931 Frankenstein movie where The Monster meets a young girl is absolutely side splitting. A small appearance from Gene Hackman playing a blind man eager for company is also hilarious. Igor attempting to decipher the professor’s instructions as he is being strangled by the monster is pure comedy gold. It’s all just so good.
The Monster and Frederick “Puttin’ on the Ritz” has to be mentioned as one of the most memorable comedy movie scenes of all time. This is a scene that Wilder fought to keep in and for good reason. It really shouldn’t work but it absolutely does. It’s just one of the many iconic moments in this fantastic comedy horror movie.
A Timeless Gem
Brooks and Wilder’s commitment to the 30s aesthetic of the movie paid off in a major way. Movies just weren’t filmed in black and white in the 70s. It was a big risk but well worth it. The result was a movie that looks absolutely timeless. There was nothing else that looked like Young Frankenstein when it came out. There has been nothing like it since. Having Wilder and Brooks’ name attached is probably the only reason a movie like this could ever happen. I am very grateful it did.
It is somewhat correct to call Young Frankenstein a spoof but it feels like so much more. The quality of the acting and the fantastic screenplay make for something far above the level of your average spoof. Sure, it is silly in parts, there is some farcical, slapstick humour but it is done with such finesse. Actors of this quality don’t seem to come around much anymore and to see them all collected in one place for a comedy horror spoof is amazing.
Any Bad Points?
I would be really clutching at straws to point out any negatives here. Gene Wilder has a knack for overacting that may put a few people off. I think he can be a little bit of a Marmite personality and his tendency to shout is in full play here. The humour can be silly and farcical which is sure to annoy a few people.
Filming Young Frankenstein in black and white was a big risk. I think it most definitely paid off but some people are not going to give it the chance it deserves due to this. It’s hard to imagine a generation of TikTok fans appreciating a black and white movie from the 70s filmed in the style of the 30s. All in all, there is little to complain about here. Young Frankenstein is just a great movie.
Is it a Knockout?
One of the all time best comedy horror movies, Young Frankenstein is a hilarious movie and a perfect love letter to the 1930s Universal Pictures horror scene. Hilarious in parts and featuring a fun plot that harkens back to Frankenstein from 1931, Young Frankenstein is suitable for both adults and children alike.
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's devotion to recreating the style of the 30s is admirable. The movie is black and white and uses traditional techniques popular at the time and looks incredibly authentic. This may put a few people off but classic horror fans should love it. The humour is sometimes farcical and slapstick which may not appeal to everyone but Young Frankenstein is genuinely funny.
Standout performances from Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle stand up as some of the best in comedy history. Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle Puttin' on the Ritz is one of the all time classic comedy moments and just another reason to love this movie. If you are a fan of horror and enjoy a laugh, you absolutely have to check out Young Frankenstein. It is fantastic.