I first saw this classic comedy when I was a kid, although I am not quite sure exactly how old I was. What I am sure of is that I was not interested at all in watching it. If not for my father forcing me to watch it, it would probably have been many years before I would have seen it. My opinions have changed greatly since then and I have very fond feelings for this film now. This movie is easily seated among the best comedies of all time and I can’t help but wonder if spoof type comedies would be as popular without this movie leading the way. As Gene Wilder just recently passed away it seemed a fitting time to sit down to re-watch Young Frankenstein and see how many apologies it deserves. Needless to say this review will contain significant spoilers but if you haven’t seen this movie over the past 42 years, then it is long overdue for you to watch it before reading on.
The plot follows Frederick Frankenstein (played terrifically by Gene Wilder) who is a respected doctor, researcher, and lecturer. Frederick works very hard to distinguish himself from his infamous grandfather, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist from Transylvania. He does not like to be associated with his grandfather’s research and even changed how his name was pronounced (Fronk-en-steen). When he learns that his grandfather has passed away and he stands to inherit the family castle, he travels to Transylvania in order to inspect his inheritance and maybe learn a thing or two about his grandfather’s work. Once there he meets his new hump backed servant Igor (masterfully played by Marty Feldman), who comically says his name is pronounced like Eye-gore in response to being told Frankenstein is pronounced Fronkensteen. He then meets his other servant Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) and his lab assistant Inga (the beautiful Teri Garr) who is fun and flirty and the complete opposite of his boring fiancee (Madeline Kahn). It seems the longer Frederick stays in the castle, the more he can feel a connection with his grandfather. With help from Inga, he discovers Victor’s secret lab and personal library with all his research on reanimation. As he spends time reading through all Victor’s notes and books, Frederick starts to think he can continue his grandfather’s research and even reanimate a dead body! They come up with a plan to steal the gigantic body of a recently executed criminal and implant the brain of a renowned scientist to create a being with great physical strength and superb mental ability. Igor is sent to steal the brain but ends up stealing an abnormal brain that ends up being used in the monster (Peter Boyle). Frederick does succeed in reanimating his corpse, but soon realizes something is not quite right. Igor admits to using a brain from someone named “Abby Normal” which infuriates Frederick. Meanwhile the local townspeople have grown weary of having a Frankenstein back in the castle, since the last one was a mad scientist, and they want him gone. They send Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) to visit Frederick and make sure another Frankenstein monster is not going to happen. During this meeting the monster escapes. Here they hilariously spoof scenes from the original Frankenstein movie with the monster’s interactions with a young girl and then a blind man (cameo by Gene Hackman). Eventually, Frederick and his team recapture the monster and plan a show to reveal his scientific success. It is a hilarious song and dance routine that leaves you laughing no matter how many times you see it. The monster manages to escape again, this time kidnapping Frederick’s visiting fiancee and having his way with her. She does not seem to mind much since the monster is very well endowed and she is superficial. The townspeople become the stereotypical mob with pitchforks and torches and Frederick is forced to take drastic action to save his creation by transferring some of his intellect into his monster. The procedure is a success as the monster is now able to rationalize with the angry mob. Frederick also received some endowment of his own from the monster in the transfer process that made his new wife Inga very happy. His former fiancee is also happily married to the now intellectual monster and everyone enjoys a happy ending.
I have already talked about several of the strengths in this film. The writing by Brooks and Wilder is outstanding with constant jokes flying left and right the entire movie. From subtle humor like Igor’s hump switching sides periodically, to some tasteful sexual humor (what knockers!), and plenty of physical humor gags to balance it all out. The actors all do a phenomenal job of being silly without being over the top all the time. Even the way the film is shot in black and white to appear older than it is was a wonderful directing decision. I also think the scenes that pay homage to the original movie through spoof are a very nice touch.
I don’t really have many negatives for this movie. I did feel that the fiancee was a pretty weak and boring character for how hilarious everyone else was. The only other character that had noticeable flaws in my eyes was Inspector Kemp. He had too many gags involving his prosthetic arm. Even with all the sexual jokes, the scene in which the monster takes advantage of Frederick’s fiancee seems out of place with the good natured feel of the whole film. I would say the film seems to drag a little too long, despite only having 106 minute run time.
As I said before, this movie is a classic comedy and one of the best comedies of all time. It offers plenty of laughs each time you see it and it is also a refreshing throwback to a time when people were not as concerned with political correctness. I enthusiastically give this movie only 1 Apology in between fits of laughter. Leave a comment with your favorite scene from this movie or another Wilder movie you like!
Rest easy Mr. Wilder and thank you for so many years of entertainment.