Most movies are fun to watch and provide suitable entertainment. Others move on to cult classics, beloved by a loyal group of fans. Then there is the pinnacle of what a film could aspire to become; the gold standard for other films of its genre to aspire. This is the highest praise that any film can receive, and very few are worthy of such laurels. For comedies one such film is the 1974 Mel Brooks treasure ‘Young Frankenstein.’ There have been many lists of the funniest films of all time and this movie makes it on them all. It is the kind of movie that makes you let go of any worries or concerns in life that you have and brings you into a wacky and wonderful world of sheer humor. It also helps if you are familiar with the legendary horror films of the early thirties including the original ‘Frankenstein’ and its sequels ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ and ‘Son of Frankenstein.’ The jokes are perfectly geared towards spoofing these films as well as many other standards of the genre. Comedy horror films are very popular now. With the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise and other films of this ilk going strong, it is great to be able to revisit the grandfather of this type of movie. This movie is just one of those flicks that you cannot help but laugh at. While some of the jokes and gags are geared more towards older audiences the movie holds up amazingly well over the thirty-four years since its initial release. I remember seeing it back then in the theater with my then-new bride. It was difficult to catch all of the dialogue over the roar of laughter in the movie house. It has been on DVD for several years now with releases in 2003 and 2005. 20th Century Fox has now released it on Blu-ray and there is a fresh opportunity to get this treasure for your home collection.
Mel Brooks is a comic genius. This is not a mere statement; it is an axiom. In 1974 he released two comedies and both are among the best that the art of cinema has ever seen; ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘Blazing Saddles.’ It is rare enough for a writer-director to create one film of this degree of excellence in his lifetime; Brooks managed two in one year. What elevates this film above all the rest of the horror spoofs is how Brooks can balance loving homage as irreverent satire. This script is not just written it is crafted like a precision Swiss watch. Every moment is honed to perfection. The only way to truly and fully appreciate this film is on DVD. It takes many viewings to catch everything that is going on here. Usually it is easy to separate the writing and direction chores in a film but here this is all Brooks all the time. It takes Brooks as the director to realize what Brooks the writer intended. The humor is not only in the dialogue and the many sight gags but infused into the details of every frame. Some are subtle and may take more than a glancing knowledge of history and cinema to appreciate. Others, once you realize they are there, will hit you over the head. For example many of the props used here were from the original Universal ‘Frankenstein’ movies. Working with Brooks on this script is the star of the film, Gene Wilder. This was his first scripting job and he sat beside a master in doing so. The men worked tremendously well together on both sides of the camera. This was a symbiotic and synergistic relationship that propelled this film to hit the mark squarely. Brooks began his writing career back in the early fifties on one of the best and first TV comedy series ever, ‘Sid Caesar's Show of Shows.’ This was silliness that cloaked intelligent humor, and that is what translates so well here.
How Brooks directs this film should be studied by every aspiring young filmmaker. There is not a single unnecessary frame in the entire movie. The attention to detail is incredible. He captures the look and feel of the original Universal movies to a tee. This does much more than provide a familiar setting. It harkens audiences back to when movies were all and fresh. Brooks finds a level of freedom in this setting able to cast aside what had become standard for a satire and strike off in his own direction. Everything from the facial expressions and body language of the actors adds to the comedy in this film. This is a rare meeting of the perfect cast and crew that defines the art of cinema. All the lead roles are done by some of the most accomplished comedians in the business. The un-credited part of the Blind Hermit done by Gene Hackman is now part of comedy history. Then again, there is hardly a scene in this film that has not achieved such status.
Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a professor at a major medical school until he inherits the family castle back in Transylvania. With some reluctance, he returns to the ancestral home. There is he met by the beautiful lab assistants Inga (Teri Garr) and Igor (Marty Feldman). There is also the housekeeper, the sinister Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). After finding his grandfather’s secret research papers, Fredrick decides to clear the family name but creating a man out of the dead. The result is the monster (Peter Boyle). The trouble begins when Igor drops the brain of a genius and replaces it with one marked Abby-Normal. The monster gets loose and terrorizes the town. The head of the local police, Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars) tries to kill the monster but Frankenstein helps it escape. He presents it to the scientific community with a song and dance number that cannot help but make you laugh.
You may have thought you have seen this movie before, but now with the Blu-ray edition it looks and sounds better than it ever did before. Most people don’t think that such a high definition format is apt for a black and white movie; they are wrong. The contrast here is exceptional. The blacks are true and deep. The shadows are perfectly done. You also get a choice in how to hear the movie. For the purist out there the original Mono soundtrack is included. The re-mastered DTS HD is very well balanced and provides a full sound stage. All of the extras provided in the DVD release are also included along with some new ones for this release. You do not have a movie collection unless this is on your shelves. Get it and enjoy it repeatedly.
Posted 10/09/08 Posted 02/03/2020