Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is an accomplished physician, teaching the science of the nervous system to his medical school students. He is the complete opposite of his grandfather. Frederick (Wilder) is a no nonsense, by the book doctor, who believes that Victor’s work had no merit and no basis in reality.
His belief system is completely reversed once he is given the will of his great-grandfather, and sets forth to Transylvania, and the castle where Victor completed his experiments. Frederick is joined by his trusted manservant, Igor (the delightfully over-the-top Marty Feldman) and his lab assistant, Inga (the aloof Teri Garr.) The trio discover Victor’s secret lab, and soon, Frederick answers the call of destiny, and takes up the experiments of the elder Frankenstein.
Frederick and Igor gather the body for the monster and in the midst of a thunderstorm (and a great monologue by Wilder), Frankenstein completes the experiment to bring his creature to life. The Transylvanians are restless, and they send Inspector Kemp (voice veteran Kenneth Mars) to pay a visit to see what’s going on over at the Frankenstein place. Kemp’s visit comes at an inopportune time, as the monster has awakened (“It’s Alive!”). Kemp and Frederick engage in a battle of wits, and Frau Blucher (the terrific Cloris Leachman) frees the creature, revealing that music can indeed calm the savage beast.
The story then provides its own version of Mary Shelley’s scenes featuring the creature’s visit with a little girl and a blind priest (a great cameo by Gene Hackman), each complete with great visual gags. Frankenstein and his crew recapture the creature, and Frederick makes the decision to deliver a contribution to science. The result is the famous musical number, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (which is, of course, absent from Shelley’s novel.)
Frederick’s fiancee’ , Elizabeth (the glamorous Madeline Khan), arrives from America, much to his surprise. The creature carries her away from the castle. She finds the sweet mystery of life, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Young Frankenstein” boasts a cornucopia of laughs that can’t be explained in a review. Wilder and Brooks tapped into a long library of visual gags and the cast executes every one of them to perfection. Brooks films can sometimes be hit or miss, but “Young Frankenstein” never fails to hit the bulls eye. Brooks himself made the off-camera sounds of the wolf (“Where wolf?”) and the cat during the round of darts.
“Young Frankenstein” is driven by many similarities to the original “Frankenstein” film of 1931. Brooks and company even rented some equipment from the set of the original. Some filmmaking techniques, like lighting and the use of green tinted makeup and dark eyeliner, are repeated.
The DVD includes outtakes and deleted scenes, as well as movie trailers. A commentary track features director Mel Brooks. The 36-minute “Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein” provides a look into the fun and laughs during the filmmaking process.
Brooks and Wilder combined for a flawless script, and fought for key aspects of its execution. Brooks refused to direct unless the film was shot in black and white. He fought for a budget that eventually moved the film from one studio to another. Even the photography was shot to satirize the original Frankenstein films. Wilder’s brilliant concept couldn’t have been as powerful with any other actor as the lead. His agent also represented Boyle and Feldman at the time, and these two were a perfect fit in their roles. Garr won over the creators by breaking into a German accent she based on Cher’s hairdresser. Khan refused to play Inga, breathing her own life into the role of Elizabeth.
“Young Frankenstein” is an ensemble piece where every character is perfectly cast, masterfully directed, and graced with lines quoted by viewers years after seeing it.
“Young Frankenstein” has remained popular for so long that Brooks and partner Thomas Meehan released a musical in 2007. That production, which currently features Roger Bart and Shuler Hensley in the cast, has received great reviews from publications like Variety magazine.