Young Frankenstein

Released:  1974

Cast:  Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn

Oscar Nominations:  Best Adapted Screenplay (Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder), Best Sound (Richard Portman, Gene Cantamessa)

SUMMARY:  Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), the grandson of the famous Dr. Frankenstein, is a medical professor at a university, and is engaged to Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn).  Rather than being proud of his ancestry, Frederick desperately tries to distance himself from it, even insisting that his last name be pronounced differently.  Therefore, when he learns that he has inherited the family property in Transylvania, he is leery.  However, he decides to travel to the estate to take a look at it.  When he arrives in Transylvania, Frederick is greeted by Igor (Marty Feldman), a hunch-backed, crazy-eyed servant who is the grandson of the original Igor (the assistant of the original Dr. Frankenstein).  Igor has also picked up a lab assistant for Frederick named Inga (Teri Garr).  When the group gets to the house, they meet the housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), who seems to know more than she is letting on.  Despite himself, Frederick becomes curious about his grandfather’s work, and begins to explore the house.  Eventually, he finds the entrance to the secret laboratory, where Dr. Frankenstein created his monster.  The lab also contains Dr. Frankenstein’s work journals, which Frederick reads through.  After doing so, Frederick believes that he is also capable of reanimating a human.  He and Igor hatch a plan to steal the corpse of a recently deceased (very large) man, as well as the brain of a famous scholar who has just died.  However, when Igor goes to steal the brain, he drops it and ruins it.  Instead, he takes a brain that is labeled as ‘abnormal’, and bears the warning “Do Not Use”.  Without telling Frederick of the accident, Igor gives him the brain, and Frederick implants it in the body.  Not long after, the team uses a lightning storm to bring life back into the corpse.  Initially, it seems not to work, but the next morning, the team hears the monster growing.  They rush down and free the monster (Peter Boyle) from his restraints, and Frederick is able to command the monster to sit up, then walk.  However, when Igor lights a match, the monster panics and attacks Frederick.  Inga and Igor finally manage to sedate the monster; at this point, Frederick learns of the brain mixup.

Still leery of his grandfather’s legacy, the townspeople are worried that Frederick is up to something at the estate.  They send Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) to look things over.  When Kemp visits, Frederick is able to convince him that he has no intention of creating another monster.  However, after Kemp leaves, Frederick discovers that Frau Blucher has set the monster free.  When confronted, Frau Blucher confesses that she had had a relationship with Dr. Frankenstein, and knows that violin music will calm (and lure) the monster.  However, after the monster sees some sparks, he again panics, and this time escapes from the castle.  He roams through the town, encountering various unsuspecting people, including a little girl and a blind monk.  Posing as a beggar, Frederick is able to recapture the monster by playing the violin.  He locks himself into a room with the monster, forcing the two of them to form a bond.  The monster becomes docile and obedient, while Frederick finally acknowledges his Frankenstein heritage.  Frederick now decides to prove to the town that the monster is not really a monster, by putting on a public performance that demonstrates the “creature’s” refinement.  Unfortunately, one of the stage lights explodes during the performance, setting the monster off again.  This time, he is recaptured by the police.  At the same time, Frederick’s fiancé Elizabeth has arrived for a visit (much to his dismay, as he has fallen for Inga).  When the monster escapes police custody, he meets and falls in love with Elizabeth.  Again, Frederick manages to lure the monster back with the violin, and in a desperate attempt to keep the townspeople from destroying him, transfers some of his own intelligence to the monster.  This seems to cure the monster of his homicidal rages, and gives him the ability to speak and reason eloquently.  It is the monster who is able to convince the townspeople to go home.  The film ends with the monster married to Elizabeth (whose hairstyle is now the same as the Bride of Frankenstein), and Inga married to Frederick.

MY TAKE:  This is a Mel Brooks movie, so it’s goofy-funny.  It’s basically a remake of the Frankenstein movie, with humor.  Just like the original movie, the monster is afraid of fire, which none of the characters seem to remember.  For me, the real star of the movie is Igor:  he seems to steal every scene he’s in.  When he’s told of Frederick’s alternate pronunciation of the last name Frankenstein (“Fronkensteen”), Igor begins calling him “Froderick”.  Igor’s hump also migrates from shoulder to shoulder, which was not in the script:  Marty Feldman just started moving it from shoulder to shoulder, waiting for someone to notice.  When Igor reveals the brain mixup, he tells Frederick that the current brain belonged to “Abby Normal”.  He’s either an idiot or a genius:  it depends on the scene.  There’s a lot of other gags throughout the movie, including some funny Cloris Leachman moments and even a dance number.  Additionally, there’s some fun trivia:  the equipment that Frederick finds in the lab is actually the same equipment that was used in the original Frankenstein movie.  Elizabeth’s hair evolves:  at the beginning, it’s a very modern style; by the end, it’s an exact replica of the Bride of Frankenstein’s hair.  Finally, in the scene where Igor picks Frederick up from the train station, he tells him to “Walk this way”, and hands him the world’s shortest cane.  Apparently, this scene inspired Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) to write the famous song “Walk This Way”.  I wouldn’t call the movie a masterpiece, but it’s funny.

RATING:  Entertaining.


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