For Mel Brooks, nothing is sacred.
From musicals to westerns to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Brooks has made a career out of spoofing anything and everything.
One of Brooks’s most underrated (at least among our current generation) and funniest films is “Young Frankenstein” (1974), the zany brainchild of Brooks and actor Gene Wilder (the original Willy Wonka).
“Young Frankenstein” is first and foremost a parody of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein,” but also of the subsequent 1931 film starring Boris Karloff as the Monster.
But “Young Frankenstein” also allows Brooks to skewer the horror genre at large, and he does so hilariously, making use of his patented blend of outrageous slapstick and clever burlesque.
The film follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (played with manic abandon by Wilder), a man of science and reason, who discounts the fantastic feats of human reanimation attributed to his deranged grandfather Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
In fact, Frankenstein (that’s Frederick, not Victor) is in such denial about his ancestry that he demands everyone pronounce his name “Fronkensteen,” which becomes a running gag in the film.
After returning to the family’s Transylvanian manor to collect his inheritance, Frankenstein stumbles upon his grandfather’s journal (bluntly entitled “How I Did It”) and he starts to believe that perhaps it is possible to bring someone back to life.
Along the way, Frankenstein is aided in his quest for immortality by Igor (Marty Feldman), a googly-eyed, hunchbacked servant; Inga (Teri Garr), a well-endowed assistant; and Frau Bleucher (Cloris Leachman), the proprietor of Frankenstein manor whose name induces a shrieking whinny from any horse nearby.
But the plot is really beside the point.
What makes “Young Frankenstein” one of Brooks’s best pictures is the way he approaches the material.
Instead of going over the top with every aspect of the film, Brooks shot “Young Frankenstein” in black and white and filled the sets with all the assorted props and bric-a-brac that often pervade horror films.
This attention to detail, along with John Morris’s moaning violin score, gives “Young Frankenstein” the look and atmosphere of an old ’30s horror film.
What Brooks changes, obviously, is the mood of story, which ranges from smart satire to loony slapstick, sometimes within the same scene.
The film is also filled with great Brooksian dialogue. Take, for example, the scene where Dr. Frankenstein thinks he hears a werewolf and Igor gestures off into the distance and says, “There wolf,” and then, pointing to the manor, “There castle.”
“Young Frankenstein” is a film I have enjoyed for many years, returning to it annually each time Halloween rolls around.
And like all film classics, none of its effect or power has diminished. It’s still damn funny, and it’s one of Mel Brooks’s best.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.