Monday, September 12, 2016
Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Young Frankenstein is about the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein who decides to create the same experiment his grandfather did with some hilarious results. Directed by Mel Brooks and screenplay by Brooks and Gene Wilder, the film is a spoof of sorts of the monster movies where it plays up into the myth and legends of the Frankenstein monster while being filled with a lot of absurd innuendos. Starring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, and Gene Hackman. Young Frankenstein is a stylish and hilarious film from Mel Brooks.
Set in the 20th Century, the film is the simple story of a scientist, who is the grandson of Victor von Frankenstein, as he inherited a house in Transylvania where he ends up recreating the same experiment that his grandfather did many years ago. It’s a film that plays up the story of Frankenstein but in a somewhat modern setting where Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson Frederick (Gene Wilder) is trying to deny his family heritage by having his surname be pronounced as “Fron-ken-steen”. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just spoof Mary Shelley’s novel in some ways but also add some absurdity into the film as it relates to the people Frederick Frankenstein meets such as a descendant of Frankenstein’s assistant Igor whose grandson (Marty Feldman) shares the same name but is pronounced “Eye-gore”. It also has these elements that play into the modern world though the people of Transylvania aren’t happy about Frankenstein’s grandson in their hometown as well as the idea that he might do the same experiment that terrorized the town so many years ago.
The screenplay is also filled with a lot of gags as it relates to Dr. Frankenstein’s old housekeeper Frau Buchler (Cloris Leachman) where horses get antsy whenever her surname is spoken. A lot of the gags in the film doesn’t just play into some of the offbeat humor of the film but also in moments that involve the creature (Peter Boyle) who was supposed to have the brain of a deceased yet revered historian but circumstances led to all sorts of trouble. Even as the creature would do things that are also offbeat in its own way that includes a spoof of sorts about the creature meeting a young girl just like the original 1931 film by James Whale.
Mel Brooks’ direction definitely owes a lot to the early horror films and monster movies of the 1930s while it also bears elements of modern-day filmmaking. Shot in soundstages, the film definitely plays up to that air of classic Hollywood where it isn’t afraid to be artificial but also have fun with it. Many of Brooks’ compositions are quite simple in terms of its framing and the way he creates these lively and often improvised moments in the comedy. Notably in a short but hilarious sequence where the monster meets a blind hermit (Gene Hackman) as it is a whole lot of fun to watch while Brooks uses some wide and medium shots to capture the whole sequence. There are also these moments that is a homage to the 1931 James Whale film such as the machine that is used to create the monster as it’s the actual machine that was used from the original by its original designer Kenneth Strickfaden. Brooks’ approach to some of the intimacy in the film as well as the non-comical moments have him use some close-ups while providing subtle bits of humor without deterring too much from the story. Overall, Brooks creates a very witty and entertaining film about Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson carrying the legacy he tried to run away from.
Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it has this very atmospheric look in the photography with Hirschfeld providing some unique lighting and moods for many of the interior/exterior scenes in the film. Editor John C. Howard does excellent work with the film‘s very stylized editing with its usage of transition wipes, iris outs, dissolves, and other stylish cutting techniques to not just play with the humor but also pay tribute to the editing style of the past. Production designer Dale Hennesy and set decorator Robert de Vestel do amazing work with the look of Dr. Frankenstein‘s home as well as the town and the lab that features the original props from the original 1931 film.
Costume designer Dorothy Jeakins does nice work with the costumes as it is a mixture of the period clothes of the past with some of the modern suits that Frankenstein wears. Makeup creator William Tuttle does fantastic work with the look of the creature as well as the look of the blind hermit. Sound editor Don Hall does terrific work with the sound from the way the thunderstorms and lightning sound to the way some of the machines sound like. The film’s music by John Morris is wonderful as its orchestral score play into some of the humor and light-dramatic moments as well as an inspired and hilarious usage of the standard Puttin’ on the Ritz.
The casting by Jane Feinberg and Mike Fenton do incredible work with the casting as it include some notable small roles from Richard Haydn as an executor of Dr. Frankenstein’s estate, Rolfe Sedan in a dual role as a train conductor in America and in Europe, Danny Goldman as a medical student who is interested in Frankenstein’s heritage, and Gene Hackman in a superb cameo as the blind hermit Harold as it’s a very funny brief role from Hackman who does a lot with the few minutes he’s in. Kenneth Mars is fantastic as Inspector Kemp as this one-eyed police inspector with a prosthetic right arm who is suspicious about Frankenstein where he keeps an eye on him while also being very funny. Cloris Leachman is brilliant as Frau Buchler as Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper who has a secret about Frankenstein’s grandfather as she would play a role in the monster’s freedom.
Madeline Kahn is excellent as Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth as this socialite who wants to remain pure as Kahn is just delightful to watch while her scene in meeting the monster is just a riot. Marty Feldman is phenomenal as Igor as Frankenstein’s humpback assistant who is also the grandson of the original Igor as he says some very funny things as well as create a moment that would inspire one of the greatest rock songs ever made. Teri Garr is amazing as Inga as Frankenstein’s assistant who would also have her funny moments but also be someone who can calm Frankenstein where she would eventually become his love interest. Peter Boyle is great as the monster as this large man with an abnormal brain where Boyle doesn’t get to say much but his physical presence and awkward comedic timing makes him a joy to watch as he nearly steals the film from everyone. Finally, there’s Gene Wilder in a sensational performance as Frederick Frankenstein as this man of science who is reluctant to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps where his desire for recognition in the field has him crazed where Wilder is full of energy and bravado in what is one of his defining performances.
Young Frankenstein is a spectacular film from Mel Brooks that features great performances from Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn. Along with a superb supporting cast, visual homage to the 1931 James Whale film, gorgeous visuals, and some hilarious moments. It’s a film that isn’t just one of the most inventive comedies ever made but it’s also a film that manages to be entertaining through and through. In the end, Young Frankenstein is a tremendous film from Mel Brooks.
Mel Brooks Films: The Producers - (Twelve Chairs) - Blazing Saddles - (Silent Movie) - High Anxiety - (History of the World, Part 1) - Spaceballs - (Life Stinks) - Robin Hood: Men in Tights - (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)
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