Young Frankenstein; or When Willy Wonka Raises the Dead

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Frankenstein Friday, where it’s alive, it’s ALIVE! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly–but that’s pronounced Owndy and Lolly, if you please.

Today’s film offering: Young Frankenstein

Yes, that IS the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond.
Yes, that IS the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond.

Lilly: Much like with The Wicker Man, Young Frankenstein is a classic of its genre, a horror parody that stars Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced ‘Fronkensteen’ out of embarrassment about his family’s legacy), a man tugged back by his roots to Transylvania and the family castle.

Andy: Which is weird, because Frankenstein created his monster in Ingolstadt.

Still, our young hero discovers he has inherited his family’s pile in Eastern Europe, and so leaves his hilariously standoffish wife-to-be and travels out to view his new estate. On the way, he picks up his faithful retainer Igor (pronounced eye-gore) and a ‘lab assistant’ named Inga, who may not be the best with a test tube, but has other, er, ‘assets’.

Lilly: And then there is Frau Blücher, the mysterious housekeeper of Frankenstein Castle who has a secret plan to make sure that Frederick takes up the family business.

Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks at his best, and it’s probably because his co-writer for this film was Gene Wilder, an influence which lead the jokes to not only be funny, but neater than you get in other Brooks films. In an interview, Mel Brooks even explains that Wilder didn’t want Brooks to feature in it because the man had a way of ‘breaking the fourth wall’–he said he wanted less of the ‘wink at the audience’, and you see that in script writing. Marty Feldman is the only character who breaks that wall, and only a few, very effective times. It makes this film feel a little different from other Brooks films, and that’s okay. 

Andy: There’s less of a scattergun approach here, with jokes focused on being clever and appropriate to the source being spoofed, rather than five-a-minute. The result is a film that never stops the plot moving, but keeps the laughs coming at an amazingly high hit rate.

The gothic setting certainly helps – the whole setup is all ready so overwrought that Gene Wilder’s mania tips it right over into a kind of hilarious melodrama. Although he is massively ably supported by Marty Feldman, who deadpans several of the film’s funniest lines as the lecherous and irreverent Igor.

Lilly: This is a film that not only riffs off the source material, but seems to adore it. Certain choices in the shots are clearly made to match what Young Frankenstein is spoofing, making it not only a parody, but an homage. The opening scenes could be straight from a James Whale film, and the laboratory feels a lot like the original films, mainly because Brooks got a hold of all the original equipment made for those features and rented it. There is even a point where one of the authority figures in the village say a Frankenstein had caused them issues five times before this, and that is a nod to the Frankenstein films of the Universal series. It’s so good, and unlike a few spoofs or parodies, it has a real respect for what it is cashing in on.

Speaking of Gene Wilder’s mania, however,  his terrific amount of energy in this film really makes it fun to watch. He throws himself into the role of the tortured, mad, charming Frederick Frankenstein to the point that you truly just want him to do it, to make that thing LIVE. Partnered with Marty Feldman, the pair of them make a great double act, and again, you are charmed by the two even as they are grave robbing–not an easy sell.

Andy: It’s just a film that’s so easy to like. It’s much more accessible than some of Mel Brooks’ other films – there’s less reliance on shock, more on satire. It’s smutty, certainly, but it’s also the most family friendly of his as well. Definitely recommend, and essential viewing for fans of classic horror.

Lilly: There are so many great moments in this film, and so many great jokes, it’s one that leads to quotation and  rewatches for me. I love Gene Wilder as an actor anyway, and in a loving parody of something I adore, of course I am there. Andy! Are we done with the review?

Andy: Soitenly.

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