Director: Mel Brooks
Writers: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Mary Shelley (Novel)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman
The filmmakers that are making spoofs these days could learn quite a few things from Mel Brooks. A good spoof movie should be like a roast. The subject of the roast should be the butt of many jokes but the subject of the roast should also be respected. That is the point of a roast, to show someone how much we care about them by making jokes at their expense.
Young Frankenstein (1974) is a very funny movie that makes several jokes at the expense of the Frankenstein story but it also keeps the heart of that story intact. Dr. Frankenstein is still portrayed as a man obsessed with creating life to the point of insanity. The creature he creates is portrayed as a gentle and misunderstood character. The comedy elements that are added are funny but they do not take anything away from the story.
This was the main problem I had with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). While Mel Brooks showed respect for the story, Abbott and Costello pretty much pissed all over three of Universal's greatest movie monsters. Dracula, Wolf-Man and Frankenstein's Monster were all relegated to bit parts with none of the bite of their original characters... and on top of that, they weren't very funny.
While I didn't find the film laugh-out-loud funny, Young Frankenstein was still very amusing. Gene Wilder does an excellent job as Dr. Frankenstein, he portrays the obsession and insanity of the character very well. He also does so in a very humorous way. He takes his performance just enough over-the-top to make it funny but not so over-the-top that it loses its edge.
Peter Boyle does a wonderful job as the creature. He has a great screen presence and very good comedic timing but he also brings heart to the role and makes the creature sympathetic. It really felt like he took a lot of inspiration from Boris Karloff when working on his role as Frankenstein's creation. The make up used in the film for the creature is also very similar to that worn by Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).
Marty Feldman is also extremely funny as Dr. Frankenstein's assistant Igor. I spent a lot of the movie wondering how exactly they got his eyes to bug out so much in the film only to find out that his eyes look like that in real life. Teri Garr and Madeline Kahn also do a great job with their respective roles as Inga and Elizabeth. Also, keep an eye out for a very amusing cameo appearance by Gene Hackman.
The film manages to have a lot of the same great visual style of Frankenstein (1931). This has a lot to do with the fact that Mel Brooks was able to use a lot of the props from the original film while making this film. That isn't to take anything away from Mel Brooks' direction though, he did an excellent job of taking what has become the most iconic portrayal of the Frankenstein legend and adding his own comedic flair to it.
The three films Mel Brooks did with Gene Wilder are probably Brooks' three best films. Of these three films, the other two being Blazing Saddles (1974) and The Producers (1968), I think this one is the least funny though. Don't get me wrong, Young Frankenstein is much funnier than any Mel Brooks film that came after it but it is not on the same level as these other two movies. I don't think Brooks would ever be able to recreate the magic he had with Gene Wilder and it is a shame that they didn't do more films together.