Friday, 3 May 2013

Young Frankenstein



When people look back at the films they remember fondly from their childhood, they often remember them through rose tinted spectacles. When I saw The Lion King last year and rated it 6/10 I was given disapproving looks from those who saw it when they were children. One of the films I remember fondly from my childhood is Young Frankenstein. I saw it several times when I was young as it was one of the few VHS movies my parents owned at the time. I haven’t seen the film for about thirteen or so years and while I remembered lots of it, there was much which I’d forgotten or had gone over my head as a child. I’m able to appreciate the film more as an adult and understand the subtle performance of Marty Feldman, get more of the horror in jokes and laugh at the racier stuff which was once lost on me. Young Frankenstein isn’t as good as I remembered, it’s better.

The film came about after an idea Gene Wilder had while filming Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks. Wilder thought that it would be funny to create a distant relative of the Frankenstein family who wanted nothing to do with the rest of the family and their infamous experiments. The film was put into production shortly after Saddles wrapped and the plot took from the early Frankenstein movies of the 1930s as well as borrowed affectionately from the horror genre and classic comedy. Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein (Wilder) is a brilliant American physician/lecturer who discovers that he has inherited the family’s old world estate. He travels to Transylvania where his grandfather’s experiments get the better of his curious mind.

Young Frankenstein is often voted towards the top of comedy film polls but I only laughed a few times. The film is quite funny but generally it just made me smile rather than laugh. Although I’d disagree that it’s one of the funniest films of all time, I do believe that it’s one of the best and most lovingly made comedies of all time. The script, design and acting are all fantastic and the film expands beyond the classic Frankenstein story to include more modern themes and storylines. Although I didn’t laugh throughout, the film did make me laugh and the humour manages to be both broad and subtle at different times. Some of the comedy is innuendo based and slightly crass whereas some jokes are deeply woven and wonderfully timed. There are also some nice repeated gags which get funnier as the film plays out.

I was impressed with a couple of the performances. Some of them were simply excellent acting performances while some were what I’d describe as good comedy performances. Gene Wilder has one of the all time great actor’s voices. I’d add him to the likes of James Stewart and Morgan Freeman for top vocal style. He has a speaking voice which rises slightly towards the end of sentences while remaining flat. His voice doesn’t inflect like an annoying MTV orange person but rather stays constant while rising in tempo, volume and excitement. Aside from his voice, his comedy timing is spot on and he carries much of the film as the central character. I also enjoyed Marty Feldman’s performance. He breaks the forth wall occasionally and has a laid back acting approach while makes his character amiable. He was often the funniest person on screen and I found myself watching him even when others were meant to be the focal point. I also found myself sometimes watching Teri Garr when I wasn’t meant to be but this was for other reasons. Garr’s performance and character was a bit broad and Carry On but she played it well. Peter Boyle made a good monster and wonderfully altered his performance as the script required.

There were a couple of things which annoyed me about Young Frankenstein but they were usually geography related. I couldn’t understand why people spoke with German accents when the film was set in Romania and there was a wide range of accents on screen which was a little off-putting. I can forgive the film this though as after all it’s a comedy, not a historical drama. When I watched as a child I used to get a little bored but this wasn’t the case watching as an adult. The film is entertaining and engaging and is full of cultural references from a Casablanca style goodbye scene to a Dr. Strangelove inspired arm and of course it takes a lot from the earlier Frankenstein movies. Young Frankenstein was a film that I enjoyed returning to and still holds up well after several decades. It’s very well made and very entertaining and makes a fun companion piece to the Frankenstein movie collection.     

7/10 

Titbits

  • The film used many of the props and lab equipment made for the 1931 Frankenstein film.
  • The idea of the dart hitting the cat was ad-libbed on set. After Wilder released the dart, Mel Brooks made the cat noise from behind the camera.
  • Gene Hackman was uncredited as the blind man.
  • Marty Feldman had been shifting his hump from side to side for several days before anyone in the crew noticed. He carried on with this and it became one of the movie's gags.  
  • Aerosmith's Walk This Way was inspired by the movie and written the morning after Steven Tyler saw it.   

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