Monday, December 13, 2010

"Young Frankenstein" (1974)

Starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle
Written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder
Directed by Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is a damn genius.  As I get older, I find myself suffering from that same thing I told myself growing up that I never would: more and more I think the old stuff is better than the new stuff.  The other night as I was watching "Young Frankenstein" I came to a terrible realization: Someone in the room wanted to watch the flop-tacular "Grown Ups" rather than Brooks' comedy classic.  This saddens me, to no end.

I don't understand how this attitude exists.  Don't get me wrong, Adam Sandler has made some funny movies.  But really, not much that he's done can stand the test of time like the run of Brooks' films through the 70s and 80s.

"Young Frankenstein" stars Gene Wilder in the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Fron-ken-steen!), great grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein.  After his grandfather dies, he leaves his fiance (Madeline Kahn) and travels to the family castle in Transylvania where he meets his assistants: Igor (eye-gor!) (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr).  He also meets the mysterious Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) who seems to have had some kind of relationship with his grandfather.  Although Frankenstein rejects the ridiculous notions that his grandfather had created some sort of monster in a secret laboratory, he soon finds that the rumors were actually true.  Becoming obsessed, Frankenstein goes about attempting to recreate his father's experiments and breathe life into dead tissue.

Once he does, things go horribly awry.  Instead of putting the brain of a scientific genius into his monster's body, a mistake leads to the birth of a creature with the easily excitable mental capacity of a child.  Frankenstein and his friends must recover the creature after it breaks out before the townspeople, sick of five generations of Frankenstein monsters, riot and kill them all.

"Young Frankenstein" is loaded with bizarre performances, hilarious puns and winks and nods at the camera.  Brooks isn't afraid to let his characters break the fourth wall to get laughs, giving "Young Frankenstein" a self-awareness that is both hilarious and refreshing.  Wilder gives a performance that seems hilariously unhinged, an obsessive character who at first is sweet and kind, but can go off into a rant at a moment's notice.  Marty Feldman's Igor is just plain classic, with his wild eyes and hump that shifts from shoulder to shoulder. 

Also of note is Peter Boyle as the monster.  His role is fairly small, appearing only in the second half of the film, and even then mostly limited to bizarre moans and screams.  Still, he does those really well.  His reactions to the world around him that he clearly doesn't understand are uniformly hilarious, especially whenever he's around fire.  A scene featuring a cameo by Gene Hackman as a blind monk who takes the monster in and tries to be his friend is a riot, with Hackman's monk injuring the monster over and over again.

"Young Frankenstein" is a classic, and rightly so.  It's ridiculous and hilarious start to finish.  Its humor is based, like so many of Brooks', on using language to elicit laughter.  And it does so with gusto.  Puns fly left and right, characters with bizarre speech patterns and accents flit in and out constantly.  It's the kind of humor that is totally timeless, and by making the setting of the movie equally hard to pin down, "Young Frankenstein" is difficult to date.  The black and white cinematography in a movie made in the 1970s helps, too.