Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: "Young Frankenstein" is Eternally Funny

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 51 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Young Frankenstein (1974) – Black & White
Running time: 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Mel Brooks
WRITERS: Gene Wilder and Brooks – screen story and screenplay (based upon the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
PRODUCER: Michael Gruskoff
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gerald Hirschfeld
EDITOR: John C. Howard
Academy Award nominee

COMEDY/HORROR with elements of drama, sci-fi, and romance

Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Kenneth Mars, and Gene Hackman

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is a tribute to Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, by way of parody. The film pokes fun at the various film versions of the novel, in particular the Universal Pictures versions. Parody’s work best when the parody looks a lot like the material at which it’s poking fun; that is why Young Frankenstein and Brooks’ other famous send-up, Blazing Saddles, work so well. Saddles looks, sounds, and walks like a western, and Young Frankenstein is a beautiful, black and white dream that looks as if it were born right next to the Universal’s Frankenstein films. In fact, this film was shot on the same set with the same props and lab equipment as the original 1931 film, Frankenstein.

After years of trying to live down the family’s reputation, Frederick von Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is summoned by a will to his late grandfather, Victor von Frankenstein’s, castle in Transylvania. He is joined at the castle by Inga, (Terri Garr), who tells Young Frankenstein that she is his assistant, and by Igor (Marty Feldman), whose grandfather worked for Frederick’s grandfather. Frederick eventually discovers his grandfather’s step-by-step manual explaining how to reanimate dead tissue. He repeats granddad’s experiments and creates The Monster (Peter Boyle). However, despite his imposing size and frightful face, The Monster only wants to be loved, but the local villagers aren’t buying it. The Monster repeatedly tries to escape the fright and ignorance that wants to destroy him, but Frederick wants to bring him home and teach him to live amongst people.

1974 was a good year for Brooks because it also saw the release of his classic send up of westerns, Blazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein is still considered by many to be his best film (I take the other side saying Saddles is his best), and the film remains a gorgeous black and white ode not only to Frankenstein movies, but also to the beauty of black and white films and how the splendor of their superb costume designs and lavish and ornate sets were still evident even without the benefit of color photography.

The cast is also superb, and no one single person needs to be singled out because everyone is at the top of his or her game. However, the late Marty Feldman wasn’t shy about playing up the fact that he was acting in a comedy. Paying special attention to him every time he’s on screen is worth the patience when paid off in comic gems. The film also has a lot of good jokes and clever gags, and the timing is impeccable – apparently due to a lot of editing. That’s probably the best thing about this film; watching it gives the sensation that everything works, makes sense, and that the humor is true. Young Frankenstein is one of the great film comedies, and is not to be missed.

8 of 10

1975 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Sound” and “Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material”

1975 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture Actress – Musical/Comedy” (Cloris Leachman) and “Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture” (Madeline Kahn).

2003: the National Film Preservation Board, USA added the movie to the National Film Registry.


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