Viking Night: Young Frankenstein
By Bruce Hall
June 7, 2017
I can say without hesitation (and with tremendous joy) that Young Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite films.
There, I said it. I try not to lead with statements like that, because some people feel there’s no need to read the whole article if they know what you think up front. For the record, I never understood that. What’s the point in knowing what someone thinks without knowing how they got there? This is one of the reasons I’ve always been fascinated by movies. There’s an astonishing amount of detail and many countless working hours behind even a terrible film. And it’s all for the sake of just a couple of hours’ screen time, which most viewers will take for granted at best, and hate with every fiber of their existence if it’s Alien: Resurrection.
But back to my point. That many man-hours means there are stories behind every movie, sometimes as good or better than what ended up on screen. Better still is when the film in question vividly reflects the personalities most involved, and rarely is that more enjoyable than with a great comedy. A great film happens when the right people intersect with the right vision, and the experience they share informs the story you see in the theater. A great comedy happens when this makes you laugh, and it makes you laugh in a way so pure and earnest that you realize you’d nearly forgotten what that felt like.
Young Frankenstein is such a film, and experiences like it are the reason I do this. I like the stories, and the stories behind them. If you’re old enough, or just a fan of great comedy, you’ve probably already seen Young Frankenstein and are already nodding in agreement. There might even be tears in your eyes, as you realize how perfectly I’ve crystallized our mutual love of this film. Not only are you welcome, but I’ll hit you with another free bit of truth:
Mel Brooks has made a lot of movies, and most of them have even been funny (I say that because I know he would love it). But he was never better than he was in the 1970s, and he’d never make a better movie than this one. It’s his best work, to the point that even he’s said so. So if you haven’t seen Young Frankenstein, I pity you the cold, desperate hellscape that must be your life. I pray your suffering ends soon. For the rest of you, I’ll tell you what I think makes this film so great.
Everything. Fucking everything. That’s what. But they didn’t hire me NOT to write, so I’ll be more specific.
Remember what I said about the magic of collaboration? Brooks has a long history of collaboration with talented stage performers and improvisational artists. Several longtime partners are present in the production of Young Frankenstein, including co-writer Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and even composer John Morris, whose simple period score couldn’t be more perfect. And like most of the best comedy, it all started with an incredibly simple idea - what if the infamous Doctor Victor Frankenstein had a grandson in America? Who had dedicated his medical practice to distancing himself as much as possible from his notorious ancestor? And what if he was played by Gene Wilder?