Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Essentials- "Young Frankenstein" (1974)

The Essentials- #11

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Of all the comedic geniuses in the whole lifetime of the human race, I firmly believe that Mel Brooks is one of the best. He created comedic cinematic gold nearly every time he sat down in the director's chair. Mel Brooks represents what spoof filming is all about. Somebody can parody a movie and still make it a genuine, intelligent experience with heart and soul. "Young Frankenstein" is a classic of the genre and something that I've proudly had in my life for awhile now.

From the opening titles, listening to the film's score and approaching the old manor in Transylvania, I knew "Young Frankenstein" had me. Turns out at Mel Brooks was only getting started. As we meet Dr. Victor Frankenstein (or is it Frankensteen?) the American descendant of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein from the 1930's horror classic. Brooks turns up the snickers early on, they are sharp, baffling laughs. Seems our young Victor Frankenstein is invited Transylvania to read the will of his great grandfather.

When he gets to Transylvania, he is escorted by Igor (or is it I-GOR?) to his great grandfathers home, where he is tricked (sort of) by the house maid Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) into continuing his grandfather's work. He creates a monster and well...you get the rest. These spoofs are usually funny retelling of the same stories, but what Brooks could do well is really capture the essence of the story he was parodying. In this case, "Frankenstein" is very well channeled in the story, and Brooks really creates great laughs.

Gene Wilder plays the young Victor Frankenstein. Wilder is a wonderful comedic actor and this film was absolutely one of his career's highlights. Marty Feldman plays "eye-gor" and he nearly steals the show (will get to the film-stealing in just a minute.) delivering a great performance. Cloris Leachman is also a great actress for comedy and her Frau Blucher will make you laugh the whole running time. Kenneth Mars shows up as Inspector Kemp. A man with a fake arm which was ripped out by the first monster the Frankenstein's created. He's got the juiciest lines and mannerisms which will make you impersonate him many months after you see the film. Peter Boyle is great as the monster, and Teri Garr as Inga, Dr. Frankenstein's new assistant is great too.

Who steals the show is Madelin Kahn. A great comedic actress who was featured in other films by Mel Brooks. She creates great comedy energy. Her character is Elizabeth, who is Dr. Frankenstein fiancee. Their farewell to each other before Dr. Frankenstein leaves for Transylvania is one of the film's highlights, absolutely hilarious. Another great highlight is when Elizabeth goes to Transylvania and gets kidnapped by The Monster. Their scene in the woods is so richly bananas that it will make you cry through laughter.

What makes "Young Frankenstein" work is how well Brooks seemed to understand his material. It is clear as you watch this movie how well Brooks absorbed the Universal horror films. This is a fine example of what a spoof movie is all about. In a world where we are mentally exhausted from the new Scary Movie franchise,  "Meet The Spartans," "Epic Movie," "Disaster Movie," "Superhero Movie" and the like of other spoof dreck we get every once in awhile, it is great that examples like this exist to show the true nature of the sub-genre. I know this classic will live on for many years to come. 

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