|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Monday, 02 November 1998|
A quarter of a century after its initial release, ‘Young Frankenstein’ remains sublimely silly and disarmingly sweet. Mel Brooks directed and co-wrote (with star Gene Wilder) this cheerfully delirious send-up of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s seminal horror novel, which had already been immortalized on film several times already, most indelibly by director James Whale, with Boris Karloff as the monster.
‘Young Frankenstein’ is a sequel of sorts, with Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) a modern ‘30s doctor who is so ashamed of his family legacy that he insists on pronouncing his surname "Fronkensteen." However, when he inherits the Frankenstein manor back in Transylvania, destiny forces him to unearth the old medical journals and soon he, too, is ensconced in the laboratory, intent on giving life to a new creature (Peter Boyle).
The broad strokes description may sound like the original Shelley, but it’s a safe bet that the author never imagined the reanimated being trying to prove his humanity by singing "Puttin’ On the Ritz" (see Chapter 20 for what is arguably one of the highlights of film comedy history). Not all of ‘Young Frankenstein’ reaches this pitch of delirious inspiration; there are sections where the filmmakers vamp until the opportunity for the next huge joke comes along. However, the moments of inspiration are many: Wilder’s half-earnest, half-am-I-being-put-on? reaction to the appearance of Marty Feldman’s Igor in Scene 4 and Teri Garr lustily rolling in the hay, Chapter 9’s depiction of Frankenstein desperately passing the creature’s hand off as his own, Chapter 17’s deft parody of a key tragedy in the original and Gene Hackman’s lonely blind man in Chapter 18 are all standouts.
The DVD preserves ‘Young Frankenstein’s appearance in all its crisp black-and-white glory. Chapter 7 arguably shows off the velvet darkness contrasting with the bright whites to best advantage, while Chapter 6 weaves in ambient violin music with lovely subtlety, enhancing an elaborate gag.
The supplemental materials are plentiful, including a 36-minute documentary, an abundant selection of deleted scenes and a few frisky outtakes. There are also interviews with Feldman, Wilder and Cloris Leachman conducted for Mexican TV by an interviewer who translates the questions into English for his subjects, lets them answer in English, then translates their replies back into Spanish; one revelation here is that Igor’s hump was originally a pregnancy prosthesis. Brooks provides an enthusiastic audio commentary track, but it should be noted that this is in the "language selections" part of the menu rather than in "special features," as might be expected.
‘Young Frankenstein’ so effectively and affectionately tweaks its source material that it winds up being almost as unforgettable as the original ‘Frankenstein.’ On the supplemental track, Brooks sounds very proud of what he’s achieved here and it’s easy to understand why.