Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder
(based on the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn & Kenneth Mars
Over four decades after its release, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN still cracks people up in ways that few modern comedies (and even fewer spoofs) do. I can attest to that, having recently seen it on the big screen in a practically sold-out theater that was filled with laughter the whole way through. Those laughs come from a barrage of rapid-fire jokes that never quit and target all types of humor, all while the movie stays true to the atmosphere of the films it’s lampooning and maintains an impossible-to-resist charm. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a classic comedy that will never grow old and tired.
The story picks up decades after the events of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a medical professor who does all he can to distance himself from his notorious grandfather Victor Frankenstein, including pronouncing his last name as “Fronkensteen.” When he inherits his family’s estate, Frederick takes a train to Transylvania. Once there, he befriends hunchback servant Igor (Marty Feldman), falls head over heels for attractive lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr), and meets strange housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman). Though he has no intention of becoming a mad scientist like his grandfather, Frederick gives into temptation when he finds a secret underground library and lab. After Frederick gives life to a stitched-together monster (Peter Boyle), things don’t quite go according to plan and hijinks ensue.
Apparently, the making of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was a hugely positive experience for pretty much everybody involved. That sense of fun translates across the screen as the performances are enthusiastic and everyone brings a different wacky personality to the table. Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein as a crazed mad scientist who frequently attempts to justify his (literally) monstrous actions. Wilder purposely goes over-the-top in many scenes and his loud line delivery provides equally loud laughs. Marty Feldman practically steals the show as bug-eyed Igor, constantly using his odd appearance as the butt of many jokes and using sheer facial expressions to get huge guffaws.
Teri Garr plays love-interest Inga and has many puns/innuendos that still hold up today. Madeline Kahn has five funny scenes as Victor’s stuck-up fiancé. Cloris Leachman plays the memorable Frau Blucher and has the best running gag in the entire film. One small detail that I hadn’t noticed in past viewings is that Blucher looks progressively more annoyed each time this gag hits, making it even funnier as it goes along. Kenneth Mars plays the visually hilarious, thickly accented Inspector Kemp and though he doesn’t receive a ton of scenes, he still makes the most of his screen time. The great Peter Boyle (who I mainly know from his role in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) plays Frankenstein’s monster and pulls off a hell of a funny performance with very few spoken lines, though his “Putting on the Ritz” sequence never gets old.
Besides being a highly entertaining romp from start to finish, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is also extremely well-made. The music hearkens back to the old Universal monster movies and the black-and-white cinematography is beautifully executed. To add even more atmosphere to this classic horror spoof, the sets (complete with background paintings) and costumes are spot on for the films being parodied. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN’s best moments come in specific redone scenes from the FRANKENSTEIN movies with tweaks that come off as absolutely hysterical, two highlights being the Monster’s encounter with a little girl and unforgettable physical comedy with Gene Hackman as a blind hermit.
Part of the reason that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN works as well as it does is that the film has many types of comedy within its 105 minutes. There’s goofy slapstick, clever wordplay, lots of fourth wall breaking, running gags, silly visual jokes, a fair share of raunchiness, and much more. On a technical level, the filmmaking is fantastic and the atmosphere of old Universal monster movies is perfect. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is an entertaining, charming and absolutely hilarious horror spoof that still feels timeless over four decades later! Besides being one of Mel Brooks’ best films, this is also one of the best spoof/parody movies ever made!