Of all the Mel Brooks films in the world, Young Frankenstein seems like the one that caters most to my interests. Before watching today’s pick, I had only seen Robin Hood Men in Tights (which I love), but for a film that’s a satire of the original horror movie classic, Frankenstein from 1931 and its subsequent sequels, this seemed like something I might enjoy. It was even turned into a Tony-nominated musical with Sutton Foster. I haven’t seen the musical yet either so I guess my not having watched this film is hardly shocking.
Even though I know you’re not surprised by this, I wasn’t in love with this film. You might think it’s just because I don’t appreciate comedy and satire the way most people I know do, but I feel a little more justified on this one because there are some definite weaknesses to the film. There are three major female characters in the film. One of them is as vain as they come and incredibly annoying (except the moment she dodges the kiss blown to her by Gene Wilder). Sure, it’s cool Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) later becomes the Bride of Frankenstein with that iconic hair, but up until that point, she’s just an uninteresting caricature. Opposite her, vying for Dr. Frederick Frankstein’s (Gene Wilder) affection is Inga (Terri Gar) whose sole purpose seems to be the butt of sexual-themed jokes. Not my favorite kinds of female characters who feel empty except for their stereotypes. At least Cloris Leachman brings the intriguing Frau Blücher into the fold. She’s funny and seems to have a little bit more to her character than the others but she’s such a minor part in the film it’s disappointing not to get more of her.
The film has overall good pacing and story up until the musical number, “Puttin on the Ritz”, performed by Frankenstein and the Creature (Peter Boyle). Once this scene (and it’s a great one) is over, the story really loses its steam. The idea of switching brains between Frankenstein and the Creature feels out of place, like a last minute idea to wrap up the story. The last act just doesn’t play nearly as well as the rest of the film. Perhaps some of these are the scenes that Mel Brooks added in so they could continue filming once everyone on set was bummed out principal photography was almost complete.
Even despite these missteps, the film does get some things right. In its emulation of the classic Frankenstein film, Mel Brooks went for a black and white film with lighting so similar to the old classics. There’s a lot of shots that mimic classic moments from films and that’s something to applaud. The transitions even seem like an old classic. The equipment used in the original film for Frankenstein’s Lab is recycled here in the film. Young Frankenstein engages its original source material in a fun and loving manner while also maintaining a satirical distance that allows it to poke its fun at the film and the genre. There are some really fun scenes like when Frankenstein is upset his experiment failed so he tells his team (Igor and Inga) that they must take the loss with dignity then throws a tantrum. Abby Normal. The musical number. Walk this way. Sed-a-GIVE?!
Gene Wilder gives an incredible performance in this film. I don’t know if I would say it a better performance than his beloved turn as Willy Wonka but he delivers some truly wonderful monologues throughout the film. He’s over the top in the best, old-timey films way that really works. Honestly, without Gene Wilder, this film would not be nearly as good as it is.