Young Frankenstein is one of Mel Brook’s truly great films. And yes, that says film, not comedy. That’s what makes this one so hard to judge, as it has copious amount of laughs, yet such a deep-rooted respect for the material it’s spoofing, it almost fits in as a sequel.
Everything about Young Frankenstein comes from the ‘30s and ‘40s during the heyday of Universal monster horror. The direction could have very well come from James Whale himself, director of both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein isn’t a film that pays homage to those classics, it is one of those classics.
In fact, if it weren’t for certain scenes that are direct parody, it might as well be a sequel to those films. Gene Wilder plays yet another in a long line of insane scientists in the Frankenstein line, determined to reanimate another corpse. Unlike other routine parodies, or even comedies in general, Wilder’s take on Frankenstein is a fully fleshed out character. He treats the monster (played by Peter Boyle) as a son, albeit with comedic wit.
The problem with the film is that the atmosphere, lighting, direction, pacing, and even the credits overshadow the laughs. In terms of comedy, especially when compared to something like Blazing Saddles or The Producers, it doesn’t have the sheer number of laughs. You will come away from it loaded with quotes, but the quotes-per-minute ratio isn’t that high in comparison.
Also, knowing your Frankenstein movies is an absolute must for full enjoyment. Kenneth Mars turn as Inspector Kemp is a direct riff on Lionel Atwill’s Krogh in Son of Frankenstein. The interaction between Mars and Wilder is priceless, but the true greatness of the scene comes through when you know the origin. A few nods to other Universal horror movies can be discovered too if you’re paying attention.
Young Frankentein is a classic, but how great it is depends on your own film history. It’s a wonderful return to a style lost, and Mel Brooks absolutely nails it. Again, the comedy seems to take a backseat to accuracy, yet there’s little question you’ll laugh out loud multiple times, although not as much when compared to Brook’s track record.