Gene Wilder: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
Peter Boyle: The Monster
Marty Feldman: Igor
Madeline Kahn: Elizabeth
Cloris Leachman: Frau Blucher
Teri Garr: Inga
Kenneth Mars: Inspector Kemp
Screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (based on characters from Mary Shelley's novel FRANKENSTEIN)
Directed by Mel Brooks
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a cinematic work of art disguised as burlesque comedy. It should be studied by anyone wanting to make a parody because of its attention to detail, affection for the source material, and the manner in which the performances walk the line between empathetic and spoof in a way only gifted actors can pull off. The parody, especially lately, can come off as lazy and reaching for low-hanging comedic fruit. With YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Mel Brooks delivers not only a master class on what it takes to make a classic funny film, but also manages to create a work of pure cinema.
Brooks recycled much of the sets from the original FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN films. He and his cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld shot in black and white, much to the chagrin of the original studio. It would've been easy to shoot in color and call it a day, but this decision is integral in the success of the movie. AIRPLANE! works because it's a straight up parody of the movie ZERO HOUR, as well as the AIRPORT disaster movies of the 70s. They don't just tell jokes and throw in some sight gags, they lampoon the very style of the movie. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is so spot on in its production value, it could almost be canon.
The performances are so good in this movie. Gene Wilder epitomizes the mad scientist with his creation of Frederick, a man desperate to be rid of his family legacy, but driven to succeed where his grandfather failed. Wilder plays it straight. He never once lets on that he's an actor in a comedy doing bits. He is a scientist nearing insanity in his pursuit of bringing life back from death. It's one of the great comedic performances and Wilder has said YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was his favorite of his films. Everyone is spot on. Marty Feldman's Igor. Teri Garr (so sexy) as the naive sexpot Inga. Cloris Leachman as Frau Brucher (cue horses). Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth, Frederick's socialite fiance. Then, there is Peter Boyle as the monster. He, most of all, walks the tightrope of the film's style. He never teeters too far over into all out broad farce. A throwaway grunt here. A lowkey facial expression there. It's brilliant, really. His work opposite the uncredited Gene Hackman as a lonely blind hermit is genius. That scene is 5 minutes of bliss. It plays like a vaudeville routine, yet has the look and feel of something from a far more serious film. Watch the camera work and the use of sound. Pay attention to the editing. It not only matches that of one of original FRANKENSTEIN pictures, but helps nail some killer punchlines.
You have to give considerable credit to the Oscar-nominated screenplay. It is a tightly constructed story and every beat works, every joke lands. This is not the anarchy of Brooks' other 1974 masterpiece, BLAZING SADDLES. This is mature work of a director with a particular comic vision carried out by top notch performers at the top fo their craft.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN deserves to be considered beyond just a great comedy. This is a damn good movie.