Monday, 8 February 2016

Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" — Monster Laughs

There are three Frankenstein films in the IMDB 250 list: James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and… Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, released in black and white in 1974 and played one hundred per cent for laughs.  In the 1930s, James Whale identified the lack of a hunchbacked assistant as a problem with Mary Shelley’s original gothic masterpiece. In the 1970s, Mel Brooks unearthed yet another mistake of Shelley’s: she’d neglected to add an bimbo lab assistant, played in Young Frankenstein by Teri Garr.  No wonder there are so few women authors in the Western canon when they make elementary errors like that. 

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Thankfully, we don’t often see women embracing an unreconstructed bimbo role in public these days.  In the UK we have a couple of post-modern aware puppets: Denise Van Outen, who proudly described herself as a dolly-bird on her breakfast TV show, and Rachel Riley, hostess with the mostest on the long running Channel 4 show, ‘Countdown,’ performing a role that would be more efficiently done by a computer.  But you really have to go back to the early seventies to see how it should be done, and Teri Garr plays the role to perfection.  Tottering around in her heels and tight dresses, she screws up her face in bafflement to demonstrate that not only is she a blonde, she is a dumb blonde.  Van Outen and Riley are amateurs in comparison.  Perhaps to demonstrate that she is putting on an act, Garr adopts a comedy German accent throughout the film.  Garr and the rest of the cast are clearly loving every minute of the shoot and they all play up their roles into extreme hamminess.

Review continues below...

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The original novel begs to be parodied, and that was before all the early black and white films came along.  There’s something about Shelley’s Frankenstein that is like a child aiming to shock its parents with its perversity.  ‘Look at what a naughty girl I can be,’ she seems to be saying to saucy Lord Byron and her husband.  Brooks has simply taken things an extra step by squeezing out every drop of madness and laughs from the story.

Most of the jokes are extremely silly.  The best ones are the direct riffs on classic scenes, such as the monster’s encounters with the blind man and the child.  The blind man quite naturally pours the soup repeatedly into the monster’s crotch and lights his thumb instead of his cigar.

Considering how silly the film is, a ridiculous amount of energy and money went into its production.  The sets are huge, the cinematography plays up the parody as much as the script and the acting, and they even got hold of the original Frankenstein lab kit.  I’ve got to say that I didn’t find it quite as funny as the cast seemed to, but it has its moments.

Personal Score: 5/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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