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After the Fall of the Hammer:
Frankenstein films from the early 1970s to the 1990s


Young Frankenstein (1974)

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), a medical teacher from the USA, travels to Transsylvania to claim his inheritance, the castle of his late grandfather Victor Frankenstein. There he soon discovers a book written by Victor Frankenstein, entitled "How I did it". Aided by his assistant Inga and the hunchbacked Igor he assembles a man from dead body parts in his grandfather's laboratory. Igor is sent out to steal a brain for the Monster - that of Hans Delbruck, a "scientist and saint" and eventually the creature is brought to life. Unfortunately Igor got the wrong brain and so the Monster, now provided with an abnormal brain, turns out a dumb and violent creature and escapes from the lab.
At a pond the Monster meets a little girl and playfully tosses flowers into the water with her. Next he encounters a blind hermit, who receives him with much hospitality. But due to his handicap the hermit burns the Monster with hot soup, breaks his wine glass and lights the Monster's thumb instead of his cigar. The Monster flees in terror and is eventually captured by Frankenstein and Igor. Frankenstein soothes the Monster by telling him that he is a good boy. Then he presents the now behaved Monster to a science academy, where Frankenstein and his creature perform a dance to the song "Puttin' on the Ritz". During this show a stage lamp explodes and the frightened Monster attacks the audience and is captured by the police. However, the Monster manages to escape again and kidnaps Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth, whom he seduces in his hideout. Frankenstein lures the Monster back to his castle, where he performs a new experiment. He exchanges parts of his and the Monster's mind in order to give his creation intellectual powers. The experiment eventually succeeds and the Monster, now a fully eloquent human being, gives a speech in praise of his creator in front of a lynch mob from the village. The film ends with Frederick Frankenstein marrying Inga, and the Monster, now married to Elizabeth, reading the Wall Street Journal.


Peter Boyle, stitched together nicely as the Monster

Crazed genius: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder)

Sexy assistant: Inga (Teri Garr)

          Although Mary Shelley's novel is cited as the basis for Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's screenplay is basically a spoof of Universal's Frankenstein films. The film retells the story of James Whale's classic Frankenstein and also incorporates several elements from Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein, very often for comedic effect:

  • The reason for the Monster being aggressive and dumb is an "abnormal brain", stolen by Frankenstein's assistant. Both Fritz in Frankenstein and Igor in Young Frankenstein end up taking jars with brains from criminals.

  • The Monster is animated by electricity, a device first used by James Whale in 1931.

  • The Monster is afraid of fire. In Whale's Frankenstein Fritz tortures the Monster with a burning torch.

  • The Monster encounters a little girl, with whom he playfully tosses flowers into a lake. But instead of killing her (like in Whale's film) the Monster rides a seesaw with her and, due to his enormous weight, accidentally catapults the girl into her bedroom, where the girl immediately falls asleep.

  • He also runs into a blind hermit, who gives him food, wine and cigars. In Brooks' version the hermit is not a blessing but accidentally burns the Monster with hot soup and fire causing the Monster to flee him in terror.

  • In the final scene of Young Frankenstein Elizabeth wears the same hairdo like Elsa Lanchaster as the Monster's bride in James Whale's film.

  • Police inspector Kemp is a parody of police inspector Krogh from Son of Frankenstein.

Marty Feldman as Igor is all eyes...

          Unlike many of Mel Brooks' other films, Young Frankenstein is not only a series of hilarious slapstick scenes but a perfect homage to the films it parodies. The Monster is treated with dignity and not ridiculed. But the most important achievement of this film is the fact that it adds a new dimension to the Frankenstein story. For the first time in the history of Frankenstein films the Monster gets the kind of comfort he is looking for. Despite her initial horror, a beautiful woman, Elizabeth, is seduced by the Monster, whose unusual sexual powers prompt her to sing arias during sexual intercourse. She falls in love with him and even marries him. In the end the Monster is transformed into a human being, is accepted by the people of the village and shakes hand with his former enemy police inspector Kemp. All the Monster wanted in Mary Shelley's novel is given to him in Mel Brooks' film. Of course this could only have been done under the guise of a parody. In a horror film intended to be serious these incidents would be too ridiculous and unbelievable. 

Brooks and Wilder also refer to the original source of the Frankenstein myth. When Frederick Frankenstein reads from his grandfather's notes the audience hears actual excerpts from Mary Shelley's novel. Naturally, Brooks and Wilder also had to make fun of the literary classic, as is illustrated in the following example, where Frankenstein finds out how to re-animate his creature:

Mary Shelley's original lines, 
"[...] until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that [...] I was surprised, [...] that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret." (Shelley: 51) (1) 
in Brooks' film become,
"Until, from the midst of this darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me -- a light so brilliant and wondrous, and yet so simple! Change the poles from plus to minus and from minus to plus!".

By adding this one last sentence to Shelley's original text Mel Brooks ridicules whole passages from the novel where Frankenstein describes his experiments, but in the end does not give away the secret of life, which - according to Mel Brooks - would have been so simple. 

Young Frankenstein is not only a recreation of the originals in content but also in style. The film is shot in black and white and Brooks used old-time linking devices and editing techniques such as iris outs, spins and swipes. He even got hold of the original laboratory machinery created for James Whale's classic film by Kenneth Strickfaden. Together with John Morris' film score and Brooks' use of light and shadow Young Frankenstein perfectly recreates the atmosphere and looks of the classic 1930s films.

Original Young Frankenstein movie poster


Following the tremendous success of the 2001 musical adaptation of his movie The Producers, Mel Brooks turned Young Frankenstein into a stage musical as well. With music and lyrics written by Brooks, Irving Berlin and Thomas Meehan, the production opened on Broadway on November 8, 2007 after a series of tryouts in Seattle. The Monster was played by Shuler Hensley, who previously starred as the creature in the movie Van Helsing.

Image form the Broadway musical production of Young Frankenstein:
Shuler Hensley as the creature and Roger Bart as Frederick Frankenstein


Click above to watch the original trailer on youtube.com


Cast & Crew:  
Frederick Frankenstein Gene Wilder
The Monster Peter Boyle
Igor Marty Feldman
Elizabeth Madeline Kahn
Inga Teri Garr
Blind Hermit Gene Hackman
Frau Blücher Cloris Leachman
Screenplay Gene Wilder
Mel Brooks
Music John Morris
Victor Herbert
Cinematography Gerald Hirschfeld
Producer Michael Gruskoff
Director Mel Brooks



1 Page numbers in quotations from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein refer to the following edition:
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein. (London: Penguin Books, 1992)



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