"Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 1/2 foot tall, 54-inch wide GORILLA?!"
When one thinks of a "perfect film", it's more often than not a drama that comes to mind. In the course of this series, there are not very many comedies that make the cut, let alone ones as downright zany and farcical as Young Frankenstein. Yet there can be no denying the sheer genius of this, one of the most perfect comic motion pictures ever made. In a career highlighted by some damn funny movies, Mel Brooks truly outdid himself with this, the one he'll always be most remembered for.
Sure, there have been others, such as Blazing Saddles and The Producers, that come to mind as comedy classics. But none seem to touch the sublime combination of humor, homage and pathos that this one does. It's very easy to see that Brooks has a deep-seated, genuine affection for the Universal horror flicks he is parodizing here. It is exuded in every moment of screen time, and comes across in every single performance. It is a labor of love, and a joy to behold.
It's no wonder that Brooks would repeatedly revisit the formula he started with this film, of spoofing a favorite film genre. It works so well here, that it's only natural to try and recreate it. And while it did work again a few times, it never clicked quite as well as it does here. This is a film so good that it can actually stand amongst the very films to which it is paying tribute.
Most importantly, it's funny as hell. Mel Brooks has been accused of employing stale humor at times in his movies, but that is never further from the truth than in the work he put into Young Frankenstein. To be fair, a great deal of this can also be attributed to the great Gene Wilder, who conceptualized and co-wrote the project with Brooks. In fact, I'd submit that the movie's genius may be more attributable to Wilder than to Brooks.
Not only does Wilder excel as the co-creator, but also as the film's star. In no other film is his natural frenetic energy put to better use--this is a comic performance for the ages. And he's not alone, either, as the movie is rich with brilliant comic performances from the likes of Teri Garr, Gene Hackman, Peter Boyle as the Monster, and of course the late, great Madeline Kahn doing her best old-time movie starlet impression.
And then there are Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman, two masters of comedic timing whose characterizations as Frau Blucher and Eye-Gor add so much to the film. Not to mention Kenneth Mars in a role directly spoofing that of Lionel Atwill in Son of Frankenstein. Together with the infectiously brilliant Wilder in the lead, this troupe of outstanding performers represent one of the finest comedy ensembles ever put together on film.
Like the very best parodies, Young Frankenstein bursts with genuine admiration and affection for the source material. It looks and feels like a Universal horror film, and is bursting with references and in-jokes targeted at ardent fans. The hermit scene alone is so memorable that for many, it has actually eclipsed the original scene from Bride of Frankenstein, upon which it was based. That says a lot.
There are so many timeless set pieces and gags scattered throughout by the keen comedic minds of Brooks and Wilder. The old "walk this way" routine with Eye-Gor. The doctor's ludicrous medical school presentation. "Abby Normal". Frau Blucher and the neighing horses. And of course, "Puttin' on the Ritz." And yet, even in a comedy as ridiculous as this one, there is room for genuine pathos and gravity, as can be witnessed, for example, in the scene in which Frankenstein and his monster come to an understanding while sharing a jail cell. This is more than just Brooks and his vaudeville schtick. This is comedy on a whole other level.
There is a reason why Young Frankenstein stands out from the rest of Mel Brooks' body of work--why the rest of his career was arguably an attempt to equal its greatness. With the help of Gene Wilder, he was able to craft something that has truly stood the test of time as the ultimate love note to a venerable subgenre of film that Brooks, Wilder and so many others hold so dear. Most importantly of all, it is uproariously funny, and a rare comedy that stands up to endless repeated viewings. Call it Frankenstein. Call if Fronkensteen. I call it brilliance.
NEXT UP: The Godfather Part II (1974)