Director: Mel Brooks
Writer: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, Mary Shelley (characters & novel)
Stars: Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman
One could be forgiven at first glance as the film starts, that this might actually be a serious film (if you had never heard of Brooks or Wilder). The film opens to a backdrop of a castle high upon a hill as the credits roll by to a wonderfully creepy violin soundtrack. Thunder cracks, rain pours and the music slows deliberately before a crescendo of thunder as bells toll in the distant gloom. As we see a coffin with the words Baron Von Frankenstein inlaid upon a plaque, the coffin is opened, a skeleton holding a box.
Dr. Fronkonsteen (Wilder) is a college lecturer teaching motor impulses to his young class. At the end of a heated lesson our good doctor learns of the will of his late grandfather: He has inherited the infamous Frankenstein castle! He hastily makes his way to Transylvania where he meets Igor (the comic genius Feldman) who will soon become his new assistant. On the way to the castle he also meets the buxom Inga (Teri Garr with an hilarious accent). Upon arriving at the castle they are met by the fearsome Frua Blücher (horse neigh’s in the background).
What follows is classic Brooks at his best. Crazy situations, even crazier accents, mispronunciation of names and moving humps. The whole cast is perfect here from Wilder’s crazy doctor, Feldman’s creepy and sarcastic Igor and the incredibly sexy Garr and Khan. Boyle (as the monster) and Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher (neiiiiigggggh) are both also perfectly cast. Even Gene Hackman makes an appearance as a crazy old blind man who tries to befriend the monster with hilarious results.
While this film is incredibly funny there are few real laugh out loud moments, but the clever writing comes thick and fast and this would perhaps be more of a clever comedy than outright silly (Saddles, Spaceballs) with each cast member delivering their lines impeccably. Brooks in this film at the suggestion of Wilder does not appear in this film, though his voice can be heard.
Sets, script, locations and photography are all top notch and filming this in black and white I personally feel was a stroke of genius from Brooks. It really adds to the whole atmosphere and ambience. This is ultimately an amalgamation of a lot of Universal’s monster movies all mashed into one with Brooks going to great lengths to recreate the look and feel of those original movies. In fact, Brooks even managed to contact the original set designer of the Frankenstein movie and was able to use a lot of the original set for Frankenstein’s laboratory.
Overall this a clever and intelligent comedy (as well completely bonkers) with great attention to detail with some marvelous set-pieces. Perhaps not Brooks’ greatest film, but surely near the top of an impressive and long list.
The Sage’s Rating: 8/10