Film

Young Frankenstein, review – Mel Brooks' classic rises from the dead, again

As Mel Brooks' new musical opens in London's West End, the film from which it's adapted is cannily resurrected in cinemas. It's a monstrously funny farce

Mel Brooks musical is opening in London’s West End this week. Having created one of the biggest shows of the past 15 years with his rollicking production of The Producers, he’s turned to another of his old movies: Young Frankenstein. Whether deliberate tie-in or canny cash-in, writer-director Brooks’ original 1974 film is also released this week.

Who cares about the motives, really, because any opportunity to revisit this exquisite and very funny comedy is welcome. It’s Brooks at his finest – with direction that is at once restrained and wildly emboldened – and it also features one of Gene Wilder’s best performances. The film is made with an artistry and sumptuous visual style that Brooks never equalled again, and it’s also an example of the director at his most daft and puerile: sophisticated and silly, a black­-and-white art film with schlong jokes.

The film is a spoof – although that word doesn’t quite do justice to the loving craft on display here – of the 1931 movie Frankenstein in particular, and, more gener­ally, the creaky horror movies made in that decade by Universal Studios. In a preposter­ous plot that’s played dead straight, Gene Wilder is Frederick, the American grandson of Baron Frankenstein, a neuroscientist who dismisses his Transylvanian ancestor’s experiments with reanimating the dead as hokum.

It’s Mel Brooks at his most daft and puerile: sophisticated and silly, a black­-and-white art film with schlong jokes.

Except on returning to the family castle in Romania and teaming up with hunch­backed, bug-eyed manservant Igor (the great British comic actor Marty Feldman) and assistant Inga (Teri Garr, doing a lot with a thinly written role, the film’s sole weak point), Frankenstein is soon following in his grandfather’s footsteps, staging elaborate experiments to bring back to life a hanged convict.

It’s on some levels a pretty faithful retread of the horror classic (despite a nod to Mary Shelley in the opening credits, this is much more faithful to the 1931 movie with Boris Karloff than the source novel). In fact Brooks went to exacting lengths to capture the spirit of those old movies, most famously rebuilding Frankenstein’s lab with the props from the original film.

It’s as much homage as pastiche, but while this works as an immaculately fash­ioned tribute to a bygone era of filmmaking, it is also graced with Brooks’ runaway comic gifts. The gags often have a cumulative mo­mentum; I can never tire, for instance, of Wilder’s pernickety insistence on pronounc­ing Frankenstein his way (Fronkensteen).

And sometimes the film reaches a kind of elevated absurdism that approaches genius: Frankenstein’s song-and-dance sequence with the creature (a surprisingly poignant Peter Boyle), performing Putting on the Ritz to an audience ofBucharest high society, is sublimely ridiculous.

The 1970s are hailed as an outstanding decade for American cinema, but the films we celebrate from that era tend to be darkly introspective, often violent (The Godfather, Taxi Driver). But it was also a vintage time for comedy, with the emergence of Woody Allen and Brooks. Unlike Allen, Brooks couldn’t sustain the critical successes but he deserves respect for kickstarting David Lynch’s career as the producer of The Elephant Man. I don’t know what to expect from the new musical, but for a stone-cold classic, the film is the week’s best release.

Young Frankenstein is in cinemas from September 27

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'
Furiosa
Film

Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover
Garfield in The Garfield Movie
Film

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him
Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell, 1981.
Film

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts
Stephen Giddings in Stephen
Film

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know