Dr Frederic von Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is not interested in hearing about the history of his family, especially not his grandfather Victor, who notoriously created a living creature out of dead body parts only for his experiments to end in disaster. Now Frederic works as a highly skilled surgeon and lecturer at an American university, and prefers to tackle more down to earth medical subjects, no matter how often his grandfather is brought up or what he feels to be the mispronunciation of his name (it's Fronk-en-shteen), but there is a little man who has sat in on one of his lectures with a will that may well take him back to the old country...
1974 was a very good year for director Mel Brooks as it produced what are generally regarded as the best films of his career, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Many fans find it difficult to choose a favourite between them, but while they are both spoofs, this one is the more affectionate as with Blazing Saddles you never get the impression that he felt much love for the genre, whereas here the humour builds on a faithfulness to and knowledge of the originals, specifically the James Whale films, with a bit of Son of Frankenstein thrown in for good measure.
The script was written by Brooks and his star Wilder, and by all accounts was a joy to make, something you can tell from the engaging (and highly engaged) performances. Once Frederic reaches Transylvania (wait - wasn't that Dracula?) and the old family castle, the main players are presented, with Marty Feldman's hunchbacked assistant Igor the role he was born to play (and doesn't he know it!), Teri Garr as the other assistant who turns love interest and serves as straightwoman, and walking punchline Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) as the housekeeper secretly pulling the strings.
The plot sticks very close to their sources, and considering Bride of Frankenstein was a parody in itself Brooks and Wilder do manage to fashion some more modern (for the seventies) gags out of material that had been spoofed ever since Boris Karloff's monster had the lightning shot through his body. No joke is too obvious, it seems, and there is a tendency to allow Wilder to go straight over the top without restraint, but with the appearance of the film so carefully rendered to look like a creaky nineteen-thirties chiller, we need to be reminded that this is not to be taken too seriously.
Even so, the filmmakers come across as sincere in their championing of the monster, who in this instance is played by Peter Boyle with winning skill. The speech he offers at the end is a charmingly heartfelt endorsement of not shunning the outsider, not least as it comes after ninety minutes of ridiculous humour. But Brooks is always respectful even if he is using the classics to make blue quips; the only part he finds truly ludicrous from the original is the swapping of the healthy brain for the one clearly marked "Abnormal" Everyone here is on top form, and although you're left groaning at too much of the comedy, there are enough laugh out loud moments, even in spite of the fact you know these are the corniest jokes you've heard in a while, to make Young Frankenstein so appealing. Music by John Morris.