Every era has its creations, some heralded as masterpieces, others declared to be wretched waste. Then comes the next era, the next generation to look back at what came before and ask – what the fuck were they thinking? And in this vein I’m here toe embark on this odyssey of entertainment, watching films ranging from summer blockbusters to cult classics, trying to figure out what holds up and what should be left to be consumed by the sands of time.
I begin this journey with the classic comedy, Young Frankenstein, and as soon as I saw the opening credits I had a problem with this film. I saw the name Mel Brooks, somehow in my head I’d mixed him up with Mel Gibson (I didn’t think it was possible for two people to have the same obscure first name). So, confuse with how the hell I’d ended up watching a Mel Gibson movie I had a quick google and realised the massive error I’d made. Now having ruined my chances of ever getting a career in Hollywood with my defamation of a legend, I decided to continue with the film, glad that it wouldn’t be rife with anti-semitism.
Directorial confusion aside, I had no idea what to expect from this film, for all I knew it could have been a porn parody of the original Frankenstein film! (and I wasn’t entirely wrong there). The premise for this film is actually pretty simple, Frederick Frankenstein (the grandson of Victor Frankenstein) returns to his grandfather’s home after inheriting it. Eventually the scientific curiosity gets to him and he makes his own monster, using his grandfather’s methods. As alluded to before, the entire film ends up being a parody of the original film, sort of showing the way in which history is doomed to repeat itself.
In the beginning of the film you’re lulled into thinking that this film will be pretty serious, given the lack of humour and the way in which it’s filmed in black and white, however once the film’s expositional first scene is complete, that conceit of seriousness disappears and we’re in with the comedy. This comedy really kicks into gear with the scene between late great Gene Wilder (playing Fronkenstein) and Madeline Khan (playing Elizabeth), where the scene manages to be hilarious and still establish the strange romantic relationship between these characters. From then on it’s just continual comedy and parody throughout, and somehow it just never stops being funny.
Even the best of comedies often have a decent amount of jokes that miss but this just isn’t the case with Young Frankenstein – every joke hits and hits hard. An example of this is how the film is full of running gags, like the lightning strikes after anyone says ‘Frau Blucher’ or the continual jokes about The Monster’s enormous ‘Schwanzstucker’. These gags are used in a way which means that they never get boring and continue to be hilarious. The film’s hilarity comes from two different sources, the incredible writing of Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, and the amazing performances of the actors. Every actor plays their character perfectly and there is no actor who I can really point to as being ‘the weak link’ in this film. Beyond individual performances, the on-screen chemistry between all the actors is brilliant and almost palpable – especially between the central trio of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman (playing the hunchback assistant Igor), Teri Garr (as the beautiful assistant Inga). Personally my favourite skit in this film is the “Putting on the Ritz” scene where Frankenstein tries to show his monster off to civilised society and they perform a dance number of “Putting on the Ritz”, but there are many others which come close to it in brilliance.
All in all, this film is beautifully weird and a near flawless parody of the original (which as someone who has read the Wikipedia page, can comfortably call myself an expert on). It somehow manages to break into its own and actually become somewhat emotionally resonant with it’s messages about fate, with Fronkenstein becoming a true Frankenstein by following the footsteps of his grandfather. With the film essentially espousing that it’s impossible not to follow the footsteps of your predecessors. Yet at the same time it cleverly undermines that with an ending that turns that on its head by straying from the more tragic ending of the original and leaving both Frankenstein and his monster alive and happy.
Does it hold up?
The power of its nature as a parody means that it holds up amazingly well in 2017 and will likely continue to do so far into the future. So go watch this film!
Also, please suggest in the comments which older films you’d like me to watch and talk about