Saturday, February 9, 2008

Review - Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein
1975 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation
1976 Nebula Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

As noted last week humor is a very subjective thing so I'm not surprised that comedies are not popular choices for any category of Hugo award. By my count there are six comedic winners of the dramatic presentation Hugo award across fifty years of awards with a few years doubled up. And that's counting a few marginal films where they balance the humor with other elements.

So Young Frankenstein initially seems to be really odd choice. Of course it did come out at a very introspective moment in science fiction history where people were starting to look back over the genre. Brian Aldiss, for example, had recently published his Frankenstein Unbound and Mary Shelly was getting a lot of credit for kicking of the science fiction genre. Frankenstein was getting a lot of attention among science fiction fans at that moment.

It also doesn't hurt that Young Frankenstein is a really good movie. From Mel Brooks prior to his descent into a spiral of repeating pop culture references (perhaps this film represents the start of that) it's packed with jokes and manages to be a clever retelling of the Frankenstein story. It is more closely related to the James Whale film than Shelly's book but that's a choice of medium for the parody.

I think that Young Frankenstein works better as a comedy for me than Sleeper just because of its range. While ostensibly a parody of the Whale film Brooks does not limit himself to just that. The parody is a framework to hang just about kind of humor imaginable onto and it gives the movie both a variety and manic energy that I enjoyed.

One of the things that I really appreciated is that Brooks shot the film in the exact style of one of the Universal horror films from the 1930's. It goes far deeper than just shooting in black and white and using some of the old props. The effects, the sets, the make-up, even the cinematography and editing are as close as possible to the old films. There was a more theatrical style to movies in the 1930's and much of that is reproduced here. This attention to detail is completely unnecessary to the jokes but it adds another layer onto things.

Of course all of this skilled direction would be worthless without a great cast to deliver those jokes and Young Frankenstein has one of the greatest. Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, and Teri Garr carry most of the movie on their interactions alone and each of them give the best performance of their careers. Even their reactions to the jokes delivered by their fellow cast members are funny.

While my preference in Mel Brooks films is for The Producers (the original, of course) Young Frankenstein is similarly great and it isn't hard to see why the Hugo voters selected it. I can't recommend this film highly enough.