After the Fall of the Hammer:
Frankenstein films from the early 1970s to the 1990s (4)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a medical teacher from the USA, travels to Transsylvania to
claim his inheritance, the castle of his late grandfather Victor Frankenstein. There he soon discovers a book
written by Victor Frankenstein, entitled "How I did it". Aided by his assistant Inga and
the hunchbacked Igor he assembles a man from dead body parts in his grandfather's laboratory.
Igor is sent out to steal a brain for the Monster - that of Hans Delbruck,
a "scientist and saint" and eventually the creature is brought
to life. Unfortunately Igor got the wrong brain and
so the Monster, now provided with an abnormal brain, turns out a dumb and
violent creature and escapes from the lab.
At a pond the Monster meets a little girl and playfully tosses flowers
into the water with her. Next he encounters a blind hermit, who receives him with
much hospitality. But due to his handicap the hermit burns the Monster with hot soup, breaks his wine
glass and lights the Monster's thumb instead of his cigar. The Monster flees in terror and is
eventually captured by Frankenstein and Igor. Frankenstein soothes the Monster by telling him that he is a good
boy. Then he presents the now behaved Monster to a science academy, where Frankenstein and his creature
perform a dance to the song "Puttin' on the Ritz". During this show a stage lamp explodes and the
frightened Monster attacks the audience and is captured by the police.
Monster manages to escape again and kidnaps Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth, whom he seduces in his hideout. Frankenstein lures
the Monster back to his castle, where he performs a new experiment. He exchanges parts of his
and the Monster's mind in order to give his creation intellectual powers. The experiment eventually
succeeds and the Monster, now a fully eloquent human being, gives a speech in praise of his creator in
front of a lynch mob from the village. The film ends with Frederick Frankenstein marrying Inga, and the Monster,
now married to Elizabeth, reading the Wall Street Journal.
Peter Boyle, stitched together nicely as the Monster
Crazed genius: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder)
Sexy assistant: Inga (Teri Garr)
Although Mary Shelley's novel is
cited as the
basis for Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's screenplay is
basically a spoof of Universal's Frankenstein films. The film retells
the story of James Whale's classic Frankenstein and
several elements from Bride of Frankenstein and
Son of Frankenstein, very often for comedic effect:
The reason for the Monster being aggressive and dumb is an "abnormal brain", stolen by Frankenstein's assistant.
Both Fritz in Frankenstein and Igor in Young Frankenstein
end up taking jars with brains from criminals.
The Monster is animated by electricity,
a device first used by James Whale in 1931.
The Monster is afraid of fire.
In Whale's Frankenstein Fritz tortures the Monster with a burning
The Monster encounters a little girl, with whom he playfully tosses flowers into a lake.
But instead of killing
her (like in Whale's film) the Monster rides a seesaw with her and, due to
his enormous weight, accidentally catapults the girl into her bedroom, where the girl immediately falls asleep.
He also runs into a blind hermit, who gives him food, wine and cigars. In Brooks' version the hermit is not a blessing but accidentally burns the Monster with hot soup and fire
causing the Monster to flee him in terror.
In the final scene of
Young Frankenstein Elizabeth wears the same hairdo like Elsa Lanchaster as the Monster's bride in
James Whale's film.
Unlike many of Mel Brooks' other films,
Young Frankenstein is not only a series of hilarious slapstick scenes but a
perfect homage to
the films it parodies. The Monster is treated with dignity and not ridiculed. But the most important achievement of this film is the fact that it adds a new dimension to the Frankenstein story. For the first time in the history of Frankenstein films the Monster gets the kind of comfort he is looking for. Despite her initial horror, a beautiful woman, Elizabeth, is seduced by the Monster, whose unusual sexual powers
prompt her to sing arias during sexual intercourse. She falls in love with him and even marries him. In the end the Monster
is transformed into a human being, is accepted by the people of the village and shakes hand with
his former enemy police inspector Kemp. All the Monster wanted in Mary Shelley's novel is given to him in Mel Brooks' film. Of course this could only have been done under the guise of a parody. In a horror film intended to be serious these incidents would be
too ridiculous and unbelievable.
Brooks and Wilder also refer to the original source of the Frankenstein myth. When Frederick Frankenstein reads from his grandfather's notes the audience hears actual excerpts from Mary Shelley's novel.
Brooks and Wilder also had to make fun of the literary classic, as is illustrated in the following
example, where Frankenstein finds out how to re-animate his creature:
"[...] until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--a light so brilliant and
wondrous, yet so simple, that [...] I was surprised, [...] that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a
secret." (Shelley: 51) (1)
in Brooks' film become,
"Until, from the midst of this darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me -- a light so brilliant and
wondrous, and yet so simple! Change the poles from plus to minus and from minus to plus!".
By adding this one last sentence to Shelley's original text Mel
Brooks ridicules whole passages from the novel where Frankenstein describes his
experiments, but in the end does not give away the secret of life, which - according to Mel Brooks -
would have been so simple.
Young Frankenstein is not only a recreation of the originals in content but also in style. The film is shot in black and
white and Brooks used old-time linking devices and editing
techniques such as iris outs, spins and swipes. He even got hold of the original laboratory machinery created for James Whale's classic film by Kenneth Strickfaden. Together with John Morris' film score and Brooks' use of light and shadow
Young Frankenstein perfectly recreates the atmosphere and looks of the
classic 1930s films.
Frankenstein movie poster
Following the tremendous success of the 2001 musical adaptation of his
movie The Producers, Mel Brooks turned Young Frankenstein
into a stage musical as well. With music and lyrics written by Brooks,
Irving Berlin and Thomas Meehan, the production opened on Broadway on
November 8, 2007 after a series of tryouts in Seattle. The Monster was
played by Shuler Hensley, who previously starred as the creature in the
movie Van Helsing.
Image form the Broadway musical production of Young Frankenstein:
Shuler Hensley as the creature and Roger Bart as Frederick Frankenstein
Click above to watch the original trailer on youtube.com
Cast & Crew:
1 Page numbers in quotations from Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein refer to the following edition:
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein. (London: Penguin Books, 1992)