Young Frankenstein is a 1974 film directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder . The screenplay was also written by Brooks and Wilder and focuses on a descendant of Victor Frankenstein, extending the story told in the novel by Mary Shelley into present day. As such, the film is a parody of the horror film genre in general, being shot in black and white and using many techniques reminiscent of the 1930s filmmaking of the iconic Universal films. Young Frankenstein also references many of the other film adaptations and stage productions of Frankenstein.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a direct descendant of the infamous Baron Von Frankenstein. It is obvious, however, that he wants to distance himself from this legacy: he insists that his name be pronounced “Fronk-en-steen.” While lecturing at an American university, Frederick instructs the students that there is no way to generate life after nerves are severed. The work of his grandfather, he says, was simply “the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind.” Further, he asserts that “my grandfather’s work was doodoo!” He claims to be unconcerned with death. After Frederick’s lecture, he is confronted and informed by Herr Falkstein (Richard Haydn) that he has inherited his family’s Transylvania estate and must travel there immediately.Upon his arrival, Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor, pronounced
"Eye-gore," his hunchback servant, and Inga, his beautiful assistant. At the castle, he meets the frightening housekeeper, Frau Blücher. Soon, Dr. Frankenstein discovers a secret entrance into his grandfather's laboratory, where he finds a book written by his grandfather entitled, How I Did It, by Victor Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein, along with his sidekicks, and driven by a curiosity about his grandfather's work, begins to experiment with creating life. Stealing the body of a hung criminal, Dr. Frankenstein begins to recreate and improve upon his grandfather's legacy. Igor, entrusted with the task of procuring the brain of the famed historian, Hans Delbrück, drops the container holding the brain, damaging it beyond use. Instead, he takes the abnormal brain, assumed to be the brain of a criminal. Dr. Frankenstein is successful in his experiment and "The Monster" is brought to life. Hilarity ensues as the rest of the film portrays Dr. Frankenstein and his sidekicks, along with Inspector Kemp and a group of angry villagers, trying to contain "The Monster" who only wants to be loved, hates being mocked, and will only be soothed by the melancholy music of the violin. All ends well as Dr. Frankenstein succeeds with a partial "transference" meant to switch the brains of himself and "The Monster" in order to make "The Monster" more human. Dr. Frankenstein then marries Inga, and "The Monster" marries Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein's ex-fiancé.
From the opening scene of Young Frankenstein, the audience understands that the young Dr. Frankenstein is not proud of his grandfather's reputation as a dangerous mad scientist. He insists on having his name pronounced "Fronk-un-schteen" in order to further separate himself from his grandfather's legacy.
After he arrives in Transylvania at his inherited castle, the young Dr. Frankenstein begins to be drawn into his grandfather's world. He discovers his grandfather's library and laboratory, which further fuel his curiosity about his grandfather's studies and experiments. Dr. Frankenstein begins to feel a connection to his grandfather and decides to carry out the experiment of creating life from dead tissue. In this sense, the young Dr. Frankenstein takes on the persona of his grandfather. He steals a dead body and a brain, and using his grandfather's lab equipment, he creates "The Monster." Dr. Frankenstein succeeds at the very thing his grandfather originated.
When things start to go awry and "The Monster" becomes too much to handle, Dr. Frankenstein vows to fix "The Monster" by making him feel he is loved. He locks himself in a room with "The Monster," and after convincing "The Monster" of his goodness, the two perform a hilarious duet of "Puttin' On the Ritz" in which "The Monster" is only able to grunt the punch line. However, they are unable to carry out their performance as a flame near the stage frightens "The Monster." He becomes enraged and is captured by police. He escapes and is subsequently captured by Dr. Frankenstein and taken back to the laboratory to complete transference of his brain with "The Monster's" in order to save "The Monster." Dr. Frankenstein realizes that he could possibly lose his life by helping "The Monster," but is willing to do so. In this regard, the young Dr. Frankenstein succeeds where his grandfather failed. He is able to create a creature from the dead and make him good-natured.
By the end of the film, Dr. Frankenstein has embraced his name and begins to pronounce it correctly. Through this gesture, the audience realizes that the young Dr. Frankenstein has fully accepted his family name and is no longer ashamed of his grandfather's legacy.
As is the case in most Frankenstein films and adaptations, science plays a major role in the plot of Young Frankenstein. When the film begins, we meet Dr. Frederick Frankenstein who is a physician and professor at a medical school. He is also the grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein. With his medical knowledge of science and his family connection, the young Dr. Frankenstein is well equipped to take on his grandfather's experiments.
Dr. Frankenstein is able to make good use of his grandfather's laboratory, along with his servant, Igor, and his assistant, Inga. When the audience sees the laboratory, it's bubbling potions, churning, and generating electricity. Dr. Frankenstein and his sidekicks begin carrying out the experiment of Dr. Frankenstein's grandfather in order to bring about a living creature. In a comedic interpretation of the famous laboratory scene from James Whale's classic Frankenstein, the three work tirelessly to successfully wake "The Monster." In order to attract electricity, Igor humorously stands on the roof flying a kite, in homage to the legend of Benjamin Franklin and his discovery of harnessing electricity. When the monster is awakened, Dr. Frankenstein mimics Whale's Dr. Frankenstein exclaiming, "Alive! It's Alive! It's Alive!"
The young Dr. Frankenstein is not only able to bring "The Monster" to life; he is also able to complete transference between himself and "The Monster" in order to save his creation. When the characters re-emerge, they both contain some of each other's qualities: "The Monster" is able to intelligently converse with others and take part in relationships and Dr. Frankenstein finds himself "well-endowed."
While none of the science depicted in the film is realistic, it still places emphasis on the importance of science and discovery, while keeping the audience's imagination active and engaged.
Love and Acceptance
The themes of love and acceptance are common throughout most Frankenstein adaptations. Most of the characters in Young Frankenstein are searching for love and acceptance in one way or another. Frederick Frankenstein, at the beginning of the film, seeks to rid himself of the Frankenstein legacy, and in turn gain acceptance from the public. He also seeks the acceptance of his fiancé, Elizabeth, who will barely let him touch her in any way for fear of tarnishing her appearance.
However, rather than gaining public love and acceptance, Dr. Frankenstein obtains these through his hard work and new relationships with Igor and Inga. It becomes apparent that Inga, as well, is waiting to be accepted and loved by Dr. Frankenstein, spending most of the film brushing up against him seductively and mistaking his dialogue for sexual innuendos. By the end of the film, after Elizabeth falls for "The Monster," the audience finds that Dr. Frankenstein and Inga are happily together.
"The Monster" also seeks love and acceptance. He is upset by the way that he is perceived by others. He is constantly chased and chained, wishing only to get away and find peace with someone who will accept him. At one point, he finds peace with a little girl he meets beside a well, an obvious nod to James Whale's classic Frankenstein (1931). "The Monster" again finds love and acceptance when Dr. Frankenstein convinces him that he is loved. The audience sees "The Monster" smile as Dr. Frankenstein builds up his character and tells him of his goodness. Even though Dr. Frankenstein's exhibit of and performance with "The Monster" does not end well, for a moment "The Monster" has found love and acceptance with Dr. Frankenstein and the audience at the exhibit.
"The Monster" later finds love and acceptance in Elizabeth. When she finds "The Monster" to be well endowed sexually, she falls completely in love with him. Their relationship endures even after transference between "The Monster" and Dr. Frankenstein, as the movie ends depicting the happy marriages.
By the end of the film, both Dr. Frankenstein and "The Monster" have accepted themselves and have found love and acceptance through their relationship to each other and their spouses.
When Young Frankenstein opened in 1974, it was to high critical acclaim. Audiences loved the comedic film and it was nominated for several awards. Included in its nominations in 1975 were two Academy Awards; one for Best Sound, and the other for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. The film was also nominated for two golden globes in 1975, including one for Best Actress for Cloris Leachman, who played Frau Blücher, and one for Best Supporting Actress for Madeline Kahn who played Elizabeth. The film won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1975, and a Golden Screen Award in 1977.
Significance of Adaptation
Young Frankenstein references many other films in the long history of Frankenstein adaptations and appropriations. Being shot in black and white, the film references the iconic Universal films of the 1930s, Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Further, the original equipment from Frankenstein is used, making the creation scenes look very familiar; Kenneth Strickfaden, the designer of the equipment, is thanked in the opening credits for these props.
Beyond simply looking similar, Brooks recreates several scenes that evoke previous films and theatrical interpretations. The scene in which Igor collects the brain for Frederick’s monster is quite similar to the one in the 1931 film in which Fritz ruins the normal brain and instead takes the abnormal one. Young Frankenstein directly recreates the blind man scene from Bride of Frankenstein, but clearly parodies it as the man spills hot soup in the monster’s lap and accidentally lights his thumb on fire instead of the cigar. The scene in which the monster dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” references Victorian era burlesque stage adaptations of Frankenstein. The famous line, “It’s alive!” is maintained, a mainstay in nearly every Frankenstein film.
While Young Frankenstein obviously seeks to parody the James Whale films, it does so in a manner that does not detract from or insult them. The quick and witty dialogue keeps the audience engaged in the hilarious comedy while also bringing the character of Frankenstein to new audiences who may have been too young to appreciate Whale's pieces or to read Mary Shelley's novel. Almost every word of dialogue is a punch line and the comedy is exceptional throughout.
Part of the success of Young Frankenstein can be attributed to Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks' previous cinematic success, primarily in comedy. The two were some of the most revered comic minds at the time of the film's release and any movie created by the pair was sure to gain substantial notoriety. Brooks and Wilder were able to take an old character from Shelley's novel and Whale's films, which was meant to be feared, and make audiences instead fall in love with him, feel sorry for him, and laugh at the same time.
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Wilder, Gene. Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art. New York: St. Martin's, 2005. Print.
Young Frankenstein. Dir. Mel Brooks. Perf. Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn. Twentieth Century Fox, 1974. DVD.
"Young Frankenstein." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
Contributed by Leighann Dicks