From the opening black and white sequence in Young Frankenstein, that conveys a strongly ominous and foreboding atmosphere I believe what is immediately clear is the respect that Mel Brooks and his cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld has for the original 1930 films. Crucially the contrasting black and white cinematographic style allows the audience to appreciate the originals strong influences of german expressionist cinema. What also so effectively conveys the original are the suitably impressive and detailed sets which helps to continue this aesthetic throughout the film’s running time.
Mel Brooks reveals in a 1975 interview that they in fact took the effort and succeeded in acquiring the same laboratory equipment that was used in James Whale’s originals from 83 year old Kenneth Strickfadden’s Santa Monica garage. All it needed, was in Mel Brook’s word’s, a polish and it was working again. A distinct and strong sense of atmosphere is also achieved so well through the suitably grand and fine musical score by John Morris. From these various elements we can only assume that that the production crew oversaw extensive research on the original James Whale films. What’s more this overall approach suits the extremely sharp and witty deadpan humour co-written by Gene Wilder; who had crucial early input into films concept’s. Indeed without the decision to film in black and white this humour would perhaps be considerably less effective in what would, we can assume be a considerably less atmospheric picture. In a 1975 interview Mel Brook’s response to the question of why it was in black and white was simply that the film was a “glorious homage to the horror classic”.
Today we have the option to watch this film in colour, as the vast majority of other film’s from the same time period were filmed but this reviewer personally would find this a great disrespect to Mel Brook’s intended vision, and would take away from the cinematography that is such a critical element to it. I imagine that Dr. Frankenstein would exclaim “Its colourized, It’s colourized, Its colourized” as passionately as he does his more famous line “It’s alive” in response to such a suggestion.
What is also impressive about Young Frankenstein is the cast who enact their roles perfectly. Gene Wilder as the central characters perform’s the necessary gusto to play the manic professor while the beautiful Terri Garr and Madeline Kahn perform their roles as the professor’s attractive assistant and fiance competently. Marty Feldman as Igor, with his distinctive bulging eyes, is also fantastic in a more overtly comedic performance that is perhaps only second to that of Gene Wilder. As Frankenstein Peter Boyle, even considering this is a comedy film, could never hope to reach the heights of the horror icon that is Boris Karloff but again his take on the character is convincing, engaging and remind’s us of Karloff’s original character without attempting a inferior imitation. In addition to the cinematography and music score, among other elements this parallel to the 1930 film’s is very important to the films success.
Collectively performances are clearly knowing of the director’s overall vision and reflect this effectively under Mel Brook’s assured direction. Interestingly Gene Hackman also plays the minor character of the blind man admirably (originally played by Oliver Peter’s Heggie in Bride of Frankenstein) in a particularly successful comedic re-enactment of what is personally my favourite scene in the original Bride of Frankenstein.
At the end credits what is ultimately clear is that this is a triumphant parody, or perhaps more fittingly a tribute on James Whales classic Universal film’s and one that never degenerates the original material for cheap or ineffective laughs. This is rather the approach we can identify in more recent and commercialised spoofs of horror films such as the Scary Movie franchise or the upcoming A Haunting House. For fans of the original Frankenstein movies this respectful approach can only succeed in achieving a additional layer of enjoyment. In conclusion I would greatly encourage Horror fans to take the time out from catching up with the unending sequels to the current profit driven genre spoofs to seek out and view this wonderful film from 1974.