It is hard to introduce a film like Young Frankenstein. Being that it is already such a well-known film, with so many memorable moments with comedy legends attached to it, it almost seems like second nature that you assume people have seen and/or heard of it. I even know a few people who tell me avidly, “I am not a movie person,” who have seen and loved this film. It feels a bit like trying to introduce Star Wars; at this point people have at least heard the name and know of the general premise. I feel as though this can be a danger to great films. We fall into this idea that people must have seen or heard of it that we do not take the time to recommend it or lend it out. On the other hand, for those of us who have seen it and loved it, maybe it is time to dust if off and toss it in the player of your choice, because no matter how many times I watch it, I still laugh.
It is hard to know what kind of reputation, or how well people received it upon initial release back in 1974. For the entirety of my life, this film has not only been available but Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder have always been legends in my world. Yet, upon starting this review, I will be honest, I had not watched Young Frankenstein in years. So as I popped it in and I hear that classic Violin music start to play, with the obviously fake castle in the background, I start to smile.
The story is one we have all heard before stemming all the way to back to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself. The film follows the path of young Frederick Frankenstein pronounced (Fron-kun-Steen) who is trying to live out his days running from the shadow of his grandfather. He finds himself on a journey to his grandfather’s castle trying to avoid the curiosity of diving into his family’s work. One night he stumbles upon the notes of his grandfather and soon he finds himself trying to create his own monster, along with some help from Igor pronounced (eye-gor) who is full of hijinks throughout the entire journey.
The base story of Young Frankenstein is one that has been told before, everyone knows the tale of the mad scientist desperate to bring life to his creation driving him mad and destroying his life, yet this story has a fresh enough take that still gets me every time I watch it. Gene Wilder provides just the right amount of ingenuity and playing it straight that his over the top moments and subtle comedy bits fall into place perfectly. On top of that, we get stellar appearances from countless acting legends including Gene Hackman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, and relatively unknown at the time Teri Garr. This is truly one of Mel Brooks best feature films and has that Brooks-tone all throughout. Although it may not be as uproariously laugh out loud as some of his others, it has truly great moments which are even harder to come by.
The Film 4/5
In what seemed like an unpopular choice, Young Frankenstein was filmed in its entirety in black and white. I actually really love this decision. While there is not much of an opportunity to wow the audience with bright colors or flashy effects, we are left with a film that seems properly filmed for the subject matter. Brooks also plays up the black and white aspect and adds, what I am hoping, are obvious faux pas in order to achieve the desired effect, and come off slightly cheesy (the fake castle comes to mind). That being said the transfer to Blu-ray is crisp and does much to sharpen some of the detail that may have been previously missed. Beyond that, it seems Brooks made a lot of his decisions based on the time periods in which he wanted the story to feel like. The film feels classic within minutes. One of my favorites is the train station scene that is meant to seem romantic and classic with a heavy amount of either steam or fog on the platform. It is straight out of a movie that was filmed 20 years prior. Then during this moment, Brooks adds comedy which creates a completely unique feeling that is one of a kind, and hasn’t been seen as iconically since.
Picture Quality 3/5
If there is one thing that stays with you days after viewing the film, it has to be the violin piece spliced in throughout the film. It has that classic feeling to it which fits perfectly into the style Brooks was going for and it is also eerily beautiful as it takes hold of not only the monster but the audience as well. Thankfully, John Morris was at the helm for the score creating the perfect monster score for this film. If one thing ties the overall tone together the most it has to be the score, it is both bold and screams of the older monster flicks in the days of old. Beyond the overall appeal and tone the score was able to create, the Blu-ray holds true to the original and goes beyond with better editing accompanied by consistent volume levels. With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5,1 track, it is hard to complain about much, especially for a film of this age.
The release I have is really nothing special as far as packaging goes. We get a standard single case packaging complete with the eco-friendly cut out in the front of the inside cover. The image on the front almost seems odd because it is in color; however, it is rather iconic and instantly eludes to the film that lies within. The disc itself has an image printed on it that ties into the theme of the film but to me comes off cartoony and almost seems like a stock image that got combined with the title logo. This disc image could have had some more thought put into it. Overall I am kind of disappointed. This is a film that I like well enough that I would be willing to pay quite a bit for a big nice release or at least something simplistic that highlights the tone and how much love and passion went into the project. That being said, I know the 50th Anniversary will be in a few years and we may see a special release then due to Wilder’s passing. However, that is purely speculation and at this point, so I am simply left with this option or a multi-film release like The Mel Brooks Collection with no individuality at all for the film.
It is very obvious that there was a lot of love and passion involved in this project. That becomes more and more obvious when watching the extras. This film meant so much to the people involved that it’s no wonder that the film did so well. I rather enjoyed these extra little featurettes; they seem to only add to the genius that is this film. The special features are as follows:
- Commentary by Mel Brooks
- INSIDE THE LAB: Secret Formulas in the making of Young Frankenstein
- A PiP option that takes you through some of the goings on behind the scenes however if I’m being honest I found it kind of hard to navigate initially but once it was up and running it was kind of cool almost like watching the film with the cast and various other individuals that have information to add to the process.
- Deleted Scenes SD
- Deleted Scenes HD
- It’s Alive! Creating a Monster Classic
- Mel Brooks and cast take us through what the recipe was that made Young Frankenstein such a success
- Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein
- This time, we get to hear from Wilder on the initial idea of the film and how it started to form.
- Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris
- A featurette all about John Morris and how recognizable his work has become and how it came to be
- The Franken-Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration of Trivia
- A collection of trivia questions you can answer during the film
- Blücher Button
- Press this feature and you get to add your own horse winnie to any name
- Isolated Score Track
- This gets rids of the the rest of the audio and merely highlights the score within the background
- Mexican Interviews
- A collection of Mexican interviews of the cast members
- TV Spots
- 60 Second Spot
- 30 Second Spot
- 10 Second Spot
- Production Photographs
Special Features 5/5
Young Frankenstein is something absolutely special and unique. It has the added advantage of being a project that Wilder was avidly passionate about and there are many stories of he and Brooks arguing over the decisions during the entire film because both wanted so many great things for it. On top of that, Wilder had said many times that of all his roles over the years that this was his absolute favorite. I am not sure if I share that same viewpoint but the passion for the role and the story are apparent throughout the entirety. What makes this film so special for me is the tone, it doesn’t come off as a complete comedy, however, rides the line between genres so well that when the comedy parts come and go it seems very natural. I cannot recommend this film enough, even though the packaging leaves much to be desired. If this is a must have for you, I’d say go ahead, but again I would love to see some sort of special release for this movie. You can purchase this edition HERE.
Overall – 3/5