Young Frankenstein may be the first movie on this list that is important to me because it reminds me of my grandfather, but it’s certainly not the last. I remember the first time I ever saw this movie was Thanksgiving, probably around second grade. My grandfather was sitting in the living room watching TV and flipping through the channels. He found Young Frankenstein playing on a station (Probably TNT or USA as they frequently played this movie) and yelled, “Matt! Come here!” I ran over to him and sat down and he just said, “Watch this, it’s very, very funny”. The scene was the now-famous Putting on the Ritz dance number. I laughed because it was pretty funny but I don’t think I truly understood the humor of the situation.
Regardless, the movie was airing the following night so I asked my mom to record it for me (this was done with a blank VHS tape and a VCR; for you younger readers this was how things were done before DVDs, pirating and DVR). I watched the movie constantly and even showed it to various people who couldn’t quite understand the humor and didn’t seem to appreciate it a similar manner. I watched that tape so much that when I finally got around to buying the DVD a few years ago I was disappointed that it didn’t have a commercial for the Elvria, Mistress of the Dark television premiere.
The story follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Fronk’-en-steen) (Gene Wilder) who is informed after a college lecture that his famous (but mad) scientist grandfather has died and Frederick has been left the entire estate. He leaves his fiancé behind and travels to Transylvania where he is picked up by Igor (pronounced “eye’gor”) (Marty Feldman) and his new sexy lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr). They arrive at the castle where Frederick meets the housekeeper Frau Blucher.
Later that night Frederick is awakened by an eerie song being played on a violin. As he searches for the source he discovers a secret entrance leading to his grandfather’s laboratory. After reading some of his private journals he decides to continue his grandfather’s work. Igor and Frederick dig up corpses to create a new monster; finally, all they need is a brain. Igor is sent out to steal a brain but accidentally gets one reading “Abnormal” (Which he read to say the name ‘Abby Normal’).
The monster (Peter Boyle) is brought to life but is completely out of control. Frederick sedates the monster and locks him up. The townsfolk are worried that another Frankenstein is in town and might terrorize them once again. They decide to send Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) to investigate Frederick further. Frankenstein manages to convince the Inspector that he wouldn’t attempt to do any such experiments. When he returns to his lab he finds Frau releasing the Monster and playing the eerie song on the violin. She explains to Frederick the importance of his heritage.
Frederick offers the first glance of “the creature” to a theater of illustrious guests, they are won over by the monster’s ability to follow simple commands as well as it’s musical number of Putting on the Ritz; however, when a stage light explodes the monster is frightened and runs through the crowd. Frederick decides that the monster will never live to it’s full potential with an abnormal brain and decides to transfer some of his stabilized intellect to it. The townspeople, in the mean time, are attacking the castle, they break down the door and enter the lab, but are stopped when the Monster speaks to them and is able to reason with them now, having a much more functional thinking process.
Mel Brooks has stated on the Spaceballs commentary track that his least favorite part of filmmaking is directing. He goes on to further say that the one exception is Young Frankenstein. He has often referred to it as his favorite of his movies and the legends say that the entire cast had so much fun making the movie that they spent an extra week just filming scenes not in the script.
What’s brilliant about Young Frankenstein is that, unlike his other movies like Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles or Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which are all parodies of a specific film or genre, Young Frankenstein works as both a parody and a comedic sequel the classic Universal originals. During the town meeting one man even states that they’re still having “nightmares from the five times before” referring to the five Frankenstein movies made during the golden age of cinema.
It’s that type of loving-homage that makes Young Frankenstein so enjoyable to watch. Gene Wilder completely commits to the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Marty Feldman is perfect as Igor (and created one of the more famous gags in the movie with the constantly moving hump) and it’s obvious that Mel Brooks loves the subject matter.
I’ve learned that the more people I talk to about this movie the more and more people (specifically my age) have similar first-time stories. They saw it on TV when a family member told them to watch it. For some people it’s Gene Hackman’s cameo as a blind hermit that they remember most; for others like me it’s the Putting on the Ritz dance number. Regardless why you remember the movie it’s definitely one that hasn’t lost a second of freshness over the last three and a half decades.
Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein have both been long considered the best horror movies of all time, so it’s only fitting that Young Frankenstein is considered the best parody of all time.
When he's not watching classic parodies Matt Kelly is tweeting, writing on Geekscape.net and hosting the Saint Mort Show. Check out this week's episode featuring Robert Myer Bennett (Free Enterprise), Joanna McGowen (You Are My Star) and Kristin Henson (Dirty Signs with Kristin).
<----- 94. Charlie Bartlett