Young Frankenstein (10/31/12)

Young FrankensteinMovie Two Hundred Forty Six

Young Frankenstein is the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson as he lives down his surname and revisits his grandfather’s experiments.

Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) leaves his fiance, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) and travels back to the estate in Transylvania owned by his family. There he meets his new assistants, Igor (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr), and housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). Frederick becomes interested in his grandfather’s experiments and decides to re-animate the dead and creates his own Monster (Peter Boyle). As the townspeople grow uneasy of Frederick’s experiments, the Monster goes out on his own before being captured again. Frederick transfers part of his personality to the Monster and then in an effort to calm people, the two put on a show.

The plot synopsis of Young Frankenstein makes this seem like a continuation of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein films from the 30s, but it’s a typical Mel Brooks spoof that is securely rooted in the original Frankenstein lore. It’s even shot in black and white and uses some of the original set pieces and props from the ’31 Karloff film. This lends Young Frankenstein an edge of seriousness that almost makes the dry wit of Wilder and Brooks strike like a bell at times or go completely unnoticed if you aren’t looking for it.

To fully understand Young Frankenstein, you almost need a firm grasp of Mel Brooks’ humor and how it works more than you need strong knowledge of the Frankenstein films. Young Frankenstein is one of the finest comedies ever in that it has an actual plot that is taken fairly seriously but is punctuated by lots of great gags to keep things interesting. This isn’t a spoof film like they make today, this was a funny take on a film where the source is clearly loved. The original films aren’t necessarily the butt of the joke, but comedic situations can be made from the source material.

Young Frankenstein is one of the finer comedies ever produced, for my money. It’s a fantastic blend of humor and the original Universal films in a way that only Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder could do. While I thought it took a while to really get going, once all the plot points are setup the film got more than a few “belly laughs” from me. Young Frankenstein is a film that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, so most of the humor went right over my head. As an adult I can really appreciate the film for what it is, especially after having just seen Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, but Young Frankenstein is just as timeless.

I give it 5 Puttin’ On the Ritz out of 5.

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The Bride of Frankenstein (10/24/12)

Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Double FeatureMovie Two Hundred Thirty Nine

A scientist even more obsessed with creating life coerces Dr. Frankenstein to create a female creature to be The Bride of Frankenstein.

The film begins with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) discussing her story for the original Frankenstein. Shelley says that people seemed to miss the moral lessons she was driving at and that there was more to the story she wished to tell. The film then picks up immediately at the end of Frankenstein with the windmill burning. The creature (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire by falling into a pit under the windmill and Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived being thrown by the creature from the top of the windmill. Soon, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) finds Frankenstein and shows him his miniature human creations. Pretorius wants to work with Frankenstein for creating new life. Meanwhile, the creature is on the run from the angry mob and stumbles upon a blind, lonely monk and learns to speak. The creature later finds Pretorius in a grave and Pretorius tells him that he wishes to create a mate for him.

I had never seen The Bride of Frankenstein in its entirety before and I had kind of a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, the film is truly ahead of its time in terms of horror and even sci-fi films. Made in 1935, it sets the hallmarks for essentially every horror/sci-fi film of the 50s. Unfortunately, the film also has some very silly choices that make it veer off into comedic territory more than horror. The servant named Minnie (Una O’Conner) is basically the Jar-Jar Binks of the film; she gets way too much screen time screeching about stupid things and I found it beyond distracting. Also, when the creature is learning to talk, he also learns to smoke and drink and his voice and mannerisms are fairly hilarious, possibly unintentionally. I’m not sure how audiences reacted to these scenes originally, but the audience for the double feature thought they were hilarious – I merely found them a bit unnecessary.

The changing themes between comedy and horror in The Bride of Frankenstein are further offset by the completely archetypal mad scientist character of Dr. Pretorius. He is both villainous and cartoonish at the same time, but again, this could merely be what we are used to nearly 80 years after the original release. We have endured countless spoofs and other films that have copied a similar formula. As for the bride herself, I was kind of surprised by how little screentime she gets. Karloff is still very much the star of his film as the creature. Oh, and Dwight Frye gets yet another role as one of Pretorius’ henchman in this film as well!

I’m quite happy to have gotten the opportunity to see The Bride of Frankenstein, not only the big screen but back to back with Frankenstein. Having the films seen in tandem is hugely successful in selling the franchise as a whole (I’m not sure how The Son of Frankenstein fits in, I have yet to see that). While I’m fairly undecided about my overall feelings on The Bride of Frankenstein, I did have a great time watching it. Part of me wishes the film seemed to take itself a bit more seriously, but maybe that bit of camp has made it the huge hit that it is today.

I give it 4 Frankenstein and Pretorius creating the bride out of 5.

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