My grandfather was a very sick man. You are talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind. Dead is dead. Hearts and kidneys are tinker toys! I'm talking about the central nervous system! I am a scientist, not a philosopher! There's more chance of reanimating this scalpel, then you have of mending a broken nervous system. My grandfather's work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life! Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
For years, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) has tried to distance himself from the mad science of his grandfather, the original Dr. Frankenstein. He is so desperate not to be linked to it that he swears his name is pronounced "Frankensteen," not "Frankenstein." Yet he is still drawn to the science that his grandfather was enveloped in. The young Frankenstein is also a doctor, and he touts the importance of the central nervous system to fresh medical minds whilst damning the name of the first Dr. Frankenstein. But then he is presented with an ornate box, his grandfather's will, and given the key to understanding his relative's madness.
And this is the brilliance of Mel Brooks' stylish, black and white Young Frankenstein. Based on Mary Shelley's novel, and co-written with star Wilder, the comedy was part of a duo with Blazing Saddles that made 1974 a wonder year for the relatively new director -- one that garnered him five Oscar nominations between the two. The solid source material and stellar writing were only part of the film's success. It boasted one of the best comedic casts to ever hit the screen -- Wilder, Cloris Leachman, and Teri Garr, as well as some of the best faces of comedy who are no longer with us -- the purring and wonderful Madeline Kahn, the world's best monster, Peter Boyle, and the scene-stealing Marty Feldman.
But back to the story. With his grandfather's Transylvanian homestead ahead of him, he says goodbye to his fussy, high society fiance Elizabeth (Kahn) and heads to Europe. He is greeted at Transylvania Station by the hunched Igor (Feldman), a British-accented man whose dark-garbed, eerie exterior hides a light and frisky personality. (He also has his own pronunciations, and goes by "Eye-gor.") Frederick takes a hayride "roll in the hay" with his too-sexy, sexual-innuendo-laden laboratory assistant Inga, and Igor leads them to the eerie, classic castle on the mountain. They meet the creepy Frau Blücher (Leachman), someone so scary that the mere mention of her name causes horses to recoil in fright, and the cast of characters is almost complete.
Through the mock-seriousness and physical gags, Frederick gets acquainted with the castle and is overwhelmed with the thrill of science when he finds his grandfather's secret library and a too-convenient how-to guide called "How I Did It." From there, Frederick is romanced by the idea of holding the power of life and death in his hands, and heads out to find his subject with an "enormous schvanschtuker." Enter Peter Boyle. As per legend, he's brought back to life, but unfortunately, Igor dropped the ideal brain, and instead brought another from the brain repository. While Frankenstein has brought life from death, he faces the challenge of a huge man with a feeble and abnormal noggin.
Taming the beast is difficult, and only Frau Blücher's music calms him. Yet he escapes, encountering a young girl and Gene Hackman's thoughtful, but innocently pain-inducing blind man who offers the monster shelter. Frankenstein won't be stopped, however, and tames his creation, which results in Boyle's monsterific performance of Puttin' on the Ritz. Of course, the climax is yet to come, and ultimately shows Kahn in one of the best transformations I've seen, recalling the classic story and tapping in to all that made her wonderful.
From the first moment to the last, Young Frankenstein is full humor, memorable lines, and classic scenes. Unlike many of the comedies today, it doesn't suffer lulls and moments where you must wait for the next laugh. The film presents one after the other, displaying the true, comprehensive possibilities of cinematic comedy. But even if we never reach it again, it will always be there to relive, and for that I am eternally thankful.