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In what is arguably Mel Brooks best movie ever (that's my argument anyway, it IS the best Mel Brooks movie EVER!), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has become not only one of the finest comedies ever made, but also is the best Horror Movie spoof ever made.
Unlike many movies that poke fun at Horror, the humor of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN never lapses into self-parody and self-conscious belittling. While it can be fun to watch a movie that prides itself on its own cheapnis and hackneyed film production values, it can also get a bit tiresome. Mel Brooks and writer Gene Wilder could have taken that route, and indeed, gave it some thought. Finally though, after Gene made a stand that he wouldn't have it any other way, they decided to create a class act.
1974 was the year of the Frankenstein movie. That year saw Andy Warhol release his own version of Frankenstein called FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN or Andy Warhol's FRANKENSTEIN. Hammer Films also released its last movie in the genre that year with FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL starring Peter Cushing as the Weird Doctor and David Prowse as the monster.
For those unaware, Mel and Gene were fanatical sticklers for detail in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. To make sure that it was a drop dead parody of their beloved Universal Pictures' FRANKENSTEIN series, particularly SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Mel insisted on shooting the entire movie in black and white; shot on same castle movie set, and used the exact same lab props as the original. Universal didn't like the idea of spoofing their cherished version of Frankenstein and didn't want to pony up the budget Brooks felt was necessary, so 20th Century Fox inked the contract and got the money. As with Hammer Pictures before him, Mel was not allowed to have his Creature look anything like Universal's FRANKENSTEIN creature.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a tale about the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein (Victor in the novel, Henry in the Universal movie). Dr. Friedrich von Frankenstein is stubbornly and quietly trying to live down the infamous reputation of his ancestor. Working as a teacher at an American university and pronouncing his last name as Fronkenshteen, the mild mannered doctor (Gene Wilder: HAUNTED HONEYMOON) is barely repressing his rage at being the last member of the notorious family line.
"I'd rather be remembered for my own small contributions to science, and not because of my accidental relationship to a famous . . . Cuckoo."
Friedrich comes into an inheritance. His father is dead and the old Frankenstein castle now belongs to him. He says goodbye to his fiancee (played with frigid hilarity by Madeline Kahn: SIMON, CLUE) and boards the train. Soon the train is arriving in Transylvania (isn't there a big ol' ocean in between? Yes! Now hush!) where Friedrich meets the grandson of his family's long time servant, Igor (the googly-eyed Marty Feldman). Confused by Friedrich's mispronounciation of the family name Frankenstein, Igor one-ups by claiming that his own name is pronounced "Eye-gor".
"My grandfather used to work for your grandfather. Of course, the rates have gone up!"
The funniest thing about this movie is the somber, serious way it goes through all the motions of an actual movie made in the 1930's and 40s. The crazed shenanigans of the cast stand out in sharp relief from the grey scenery around them. As the creature (Peter Boyle: SPECIES II) goes on a pain induced rampage, crashing through the door of the blind hermit's home, the blissfully ignorant old man (Gene Hackman: THE CONVERSATION, NIGHT MOVES) cries out "Wait! Where are you going? I was going to make espresso!"
Laughs careen from word play and physical comedy and yet, through it all somehow, it never destroys the illusion that we could very well be watching some demented old Universal Monster movie. Made perhaps, after the inspiring heat of brainstorming during an all night bender.
Mel Brooks deft direction, combined with cinematography by Gerald Hirschfield (THE CAR, COMA) and set design by Robert "Bob" De Vestel (BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, DAMIEN: Omen II) creates a wholly believable stage upon which Mel Brooks usual cast of mad actors chew the monochrome scenery to the hilt. Recognizable Mel Brooks acolytes include Cloris Leachman (KISS ME DEADLY), Kenneth Mars (THE PARALLAX VIEW), Marty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn. Teri Garr (THE CONVERSATION, WITCHES BREW), a virtual unknown at the time, also turns in a great performance as the bosomy, provocative Inga.
"Vould you like a rrroll in za hay? It's fun!"
More than worth renting, this movie is worth owning. I've met hundreds of Horror fans over the years who can attest to the fun of shouting out memorable quotes to each other as a means of fan recognition ("Blücher!"). The movie has so many of them.
Like any spoof, of course, this only works if you have seen the Universal Pictures original, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and perhaps the original FRANKENSTEIN and it's first sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Otherwise the many jokes will go sailing right past you. If by some great flaw of chance you have not seen YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, then don't wait any longer. This has earned its place among both Horror and comedy and is a full 5 Shriek Girl classic.
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