Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Stoked for that probable genre masterpiece, I, Frankenstein? To tide you over, we’ve lined up a week of similarly… unconventional Frankenstein movies.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Nowadays, the depressing go-to model for movie parodies—epitomized by the Scary Movie franchise—involves riffing on the most notable bits from a dozen or more loosely connected box-office hits. Once upon a time, though, there were comic filmmakers capable of crafting a sustained, inspired, affectionate spoof that functions as a movie, rather than a mere collection of half-assed skits.
Mel Brooks, as it happens, has done work in both of those categories (see Robin Hood: Men In Tights for an example of the latter), but Young Frankenstein, in which Gene Wilder plays the skeptical grandson of Mary Shelley’s protagonist, ranks among both the funniest and the most respectful film parodies ever made. In addition to Wilder’s splendidly frenetic turn, it features rib-tickling work from Brooks’ stock company (Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Kenneth Mars), brilliant running gags, and one of the all-time great comic set pieces in Frankenstein’s presentation of his Monster, who proceeds to perform “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”
What really makes the movie work, though, is its remarkable attention to detail. Shot in black and white, it genuinely resembles the 1930s Universal classics it’s aping—as well it should, because Brooks went to the trouble of acquiring many of the original props used in those films, which were still kicking around in storage four decades later. What’s more, the narrative really works as a narrative, not just as a flimsy clothesline for gags. Indeed, parts of Young Frankenstein are so dedicated to authenticity that you could selectively edit out the funny parts and create the illusion of a completely serious horror movie. Frankenstein’s early classroom lecture, for example, spends more time on actual anatomical labeling and discussions of motor reflexes than any contemporary comedy would dare, which only makes the scene’s absurd aspects that much funnier. Brooks and Wilder (who co-wrote the script) trusted the audience to share their sincere interest in the source of their jesting. Trust wasn’t a dirty word in Hollywood then.
Availability: Young Frankenstein is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix.