My taste in comedy has changed over the years. I used to think Full House was funny and Bill and Ted were the two best comedians in existence. I now know better.
The first time I saw Young Frankenstein I was a teenager. I was still learning to appreciate comedy, but I already loved movies. I had heard this was one of the best comedies of all time, so I watched it eagerly, and I loved every moment. It was comedy genius. But then I got married and I matured a bit more. I showed my wife this film, thinking she would find it just as funny as I had years ago, but suddenly I felt an odd combination of awkwardness and boredom while watching it.
I realized I didn’t like this movie anymore. I guess I must have changed. Young Frankenstein actually helped inspire this section of my website. It was one of the original movies that got worse for me on multiple viewings. So, as you can imagine, I was excited when I realized Halloween was coming around and this is the perfect time to finally give this movie a piece of my mind.
I planned to rip Young Frankenstein to shreds, pointing out all of its imperfections. But as I watched it and took notes, I was surprised when I found very little to complain about. This movie has a great atmosphere and it sucks me right into the story so I have trouble criticizing it. However, it’s still not as good as the first time I saw it, so it fits here. But don’t be surprised if you find a lot of compliments in this article.
This has been a long introduction, so let’s dive in right now.
Mixed-Up Time Periods
When exactly is Young Frankenstein supposed to take place? Is it 1974 or 1874? The first time we see Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, he’s lecturing a class of medical students who definitely look like they’re from the ‘70s based on their hairstyles. But then he takes a train to Transylvania, and suddenly it feels like we’ve been transported to the 19th century. He even has to ride a horse carriage to his great-grandfather’s castle. In fact, we only see two cars in the whole movie, and they both look like they’re from the 1930s or earlier.
There’s a modern-looking Brain Depositary in Transylvania, even though most of the town has an old-fashioned look to it. None of the villagers look like they’re from the ‘70s, but that could just be chalked up to the local culture. Maybe they’re a few years behind the United States, kind of like Canada.
I know Mel Brooks is sending up Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, so he wanted a dated look to everything. That’s a good idea. But it makes things a little confusing, especially if you watch it several times and start to think about how strange it is.
Madeline Kahn’s Annoying Character
Madeline Kahn was a funny lady. She stole many scenes in Clue with her subtly brilliant performance as Mrs. White. However, her character Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein becomes annoying in her very first scene. She finds flimsy excuses not to let Frederick touch her lips, hair, dress or hands, so he’s finally reduced to just rubbing elbows to say goodbye. Then when he blows her a kiss from the departing train, for some reason she jumps out of the way. That’s not very funny. I suppose it’s to set up the fact that these two aren’t right for each other so we won’t feel bad when Frederick cheats on her later.
Elizabeth is a lot like Nancy in Enchanted. She exists simply to create a weak love triangle and to marry Frankenstein’s monster at the end. Ironically, every actor she shares a scene with steals it from her. She just comes across as a one-note character. It’s hard for me to put my finger exactly on the problem with her, but the more times I see this movie, the more I dislike her.
Madeline, I usually enjoy your self-centered characters, but in this movie you just make me want to shout…
How Did That Suddenly Happen?
There are several times in the film when things that logically shouldn’t happen suddenly do. It’s kind of jarring. For example, immediately after Frankenstein’s monster comes to life and breaks out of the castle, we see a little girl’s parents barricading their door and windows to protect themselves. And they explicitly say that it’s because the monster is on the loose. But how could they possibly know that? No one even knows the monster exists until Frederick presents him to the world and they tap dance together (best scene in the movie, by the way). How do these villagers suddenly know all about the monster? It’s never explained.
At one point, Elizabeth comes to visit Frederick at his castle to supply the aforementioned love triangle. Frankenstein’s monster sneaks into her bedroom and kidnaps her. But later we see that Frederick and his two assistants are constantly keeping an eye out for the monster, and they spot him when he approaches the main gate. We’re never shown another entrance to the castle, so I assume he walked in through the front door or climbed on the front of the castle. Either way, he would be plainly visible. How did he sneak into the castle and then carry Elizabeth away without being seen? Never explained.
Here’s one more glaring example. During Frederick’s first night in the castle, he’s awakened by faint music and he goes to investigate. He accidentally discovers a secret passage behind a bookcase and follows it down until he finds his great-grandfather’s secret laboratory where he did the original experiments to create a monster. It was quite a process for him to get there. However, the filmmakers seem to forget that fact at the climax when the villagers smash their way into the castle and quickly arrive in the laboratory. But think about this for a minute: They would’ve had to go single-file up the treacherous staircase, go into the correct room, and travel through several dark hallways until finally coming across the laboratory. How did they do that so quickly? Oh, silly me. I guess they took the dumbwaiter down, like Igor. That explains everything.
Can You Tell Me How to Get… How to Get to Transylvania?
One thing I’d really like to know is where is Transylvania in this movie? I mean, the man who comes to visit Frederick at the beginning says he traveled 5,000 miles to get to America. And we’re supposed to believe that Frederick simply takes a couple of trains to get to Transylvania? Just two trains! Who does he think he is, the Thing from Fantastic Four? Transylvania is in Romania (not Latveria)… which is in Europe… which is separated from America by the Atlantic Ocean… which doesn’t make sense! Unless there’s a new 3,000-mile train bridge I haven’t heard about, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get to Transylvania by train!
I suppose this could have gone in the last section of logical fallacies, but I think this deserves to be called out by itself. This kind of thing feels truly lazy. How do you forget a simple fact like where your story is set? Can you imagine if Indiana Jones had taken a train from America to Nepal in Raiders of the Lost Ark? People would have laughed at such a silly mistake. Young Frankenstein is a comedy that’s supposed to be laughed at, but not in a derisive way. If you can come up with a solution to this geographical error, I’d love to hear it.
Worth a Watch
Young Frankenstein has a lot of classic jokes and gags. I love Marty Feldman’s Igor – I always get a kick out of his roaming hump. I love Kenneth Mars’ Inspector Kemp and his outrageous accent. After several viewings, you’ll actually be able to figure out what he’s saying. And Gene Wilder is constantly cracking me up with his out-of-control performance. He had me from the moment he stabbed himself in the thigh with a scalpel.
As I said at the start, I can’t really dislike this film. Young Frankenstein is a good movie, and it’s definitely one of Mel Brooks’ best works. It’s worth a watch, but there’s not much point in seeing it too many times because you’ll pick up on all of the jokes the first time around. It’s a no-brainer.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All photos from Young Frankenstein are the copyright of Twentieth Century Fox. The clip from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the copyright of Paramount Pictures.
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The travel complaint makes no sense. It’s just a pacing issue. It can be safely assumed there was a boat ride between, but theres no reason to slow things down with unnecessary travel scenes. Transylvania is also supposed to be a sort of time-lost place, where things don’t change much. Most of the rest is just the same minor inconsistencies you’d see in most movies. you can ruin almost any movie for yourself with that kind of nit picking.
Thank you for your comment. They could have shown Dr. Frankenstein get on a plane and then end up on a train in Transylvania. But the way it’s edited, it doesn’t give the impression that Transylvania is “5,000 miles” away. The joke they have about the people on the train being the same, just using different languages, is one of the weaker ones of the film, too. Indiana Jones found a way to travel long distances without hurting the pacing at all.
I suppose you’re right about Transylvania being a time-lost place. It’s just interesting how they don’t offer an explanation as to why that’s the case. They add little modern touches like Igor’s “My grandfather used to work for your grandfather. But the rates have gone up.” I just think they could have offered some explanation there.
As for the other complaints, yes, they might be a little nitpicky, which is why I decided I actually still like this film. It’s not ruined for me, but I try to look at it with a bit more of a critical eye, as I do with all films. I can’t turn my brain off when watching any kind of film, whether it’s a comedy, action film, drama or anything else. Thank you again for your comment. I really appreciate it.
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Young Frankenstein is awesome and gets better every time I see it. I’m 21, first saw it as a teen and have loved Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks since I was a kid.
I first saw Young Frankenstein when I was a teenager, too, and I thought it was absolutely hilarious. Though my tastes have changed over the years, I still think this movie is a work of genius. Too bad Mel Brooks wasn’t able to reach greatness like this again.
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Way to over-think a tongue-n-cheek homage to Universal’s golden-age of hokey horror, replete with outrageous cardboard characters, performances and construction. You obviously don’t understand Mel Brooks’ intentional loose logic (e.g. contradictory timelines and out-of-place sequencing). Have you “seen” any of his other movies? The flavor of Y.F.’s humor is supposed to be muted and absurdist. To view this brilliant, cinematic mash-up in any other context just means you don’t get what is widely recognized as a seminal piece of modern-movie comedy. Stick to Seinfeld reruns.
Thank you for your comment. Sometimes my tone seems mean when I really didn’t mean for it to come across that way. I did mention that I meant to be much harsher toward this movie, but on further viewings my views on it softened dramatically. I consider it a fun part of my childhood, though I don’t think it’s as great as I remember. That’s all I really mean. And, by the way, I’ve never watched an episode of Seinfeld in my life. 🙂
Hi, Robert. I believe that the objection was not that you were too harsh but that you didn’t get it. Which I am afraid is the case. E.g. the timeline and geographical inconsistencies, as already pointed out, are clearly, intentional and allude to the trashy atributes of the horror movies which they spoof. No, your “tone” does not speak of meanness but rather a lack of humour and a weirdly patronising attitude toward the movie and its creators, which makes you act out your readiness to trash the movie, yet, in the end, decide to give it a pass despite all its imperfections while being all surprised how “soft” you were…
Practically every scene in any episode of Seinfeld is a hundred times funnier than anything that happens in Young Frankenstein. It’s a good movie that perfectly sends up the Universal horror genre, and it has great attention to detail and is extremely atmospheric, but it isn’t even the slightest bit funny. Where humour is concerned, Young Frankenstein shouldn’t be favourably compared to a landmark sitcom often hailed as one of the funniest ever written.
However, I do see Young Frankenstein as a cinematic masterwork with great performances from Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle. Just not a great comedy.
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Dude the film is one of the greatest funny films of all time. It is without question ahead of its time and one of Gene Wilder greatest performances. As for Feldman what a 5 star pure class of humour acted out (Genius). Dont worry about your girlfriend times are changing and for the worst. BRING BACK ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES ) People seem to think that old just aint cool and they are wrong. Great film great cast and very funny dont see that in a lot of so called funny films today. You have to always joke about sex or be violent and swear. Anyway good read.
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Young Frankenstein holds up over time much better than Spaceballs, which is unwatchable except for a few scenes, and even Blazing Saddles.
The New York train ride that immediately cuts to an identical (but Transylvania-esque) Transylvanian train ride is a visual gag. Eastern Europe is a long way from New York, hence why condensing the journey into nothing more than a few seconds in a train car at one end and a few seconds in a train car at the other end is supposed to be funny. I’ve always really liked this gag.
Thank you for explaining that. The thing that really throws me off about this scene is that they have the same conductor on both trains saying what the next stop is. I don’t understand the purpose of having the same guy on both trains because that just makes it seem like they’re implying that it’s the same train both times when it obviously isn’t.
The reason this and many other childhood films don’t hold up well, is the material or satire is no longer new ( can only be new once). Without really realizing it you have been subjected to a million rewrites of this in other stories…..sometimes actually refined and set up better. That’s why my daughter loves the Mockingbird series, I say it’s a boring rewrite of a dozen stories I have seen before……she’s says it’s Great…….ask her 20 years from now.
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I watched the movie last night with my teenage kids, and was a bit embarrassed because I had forgotten that some of the scenes, though done in a tasteful manner and strictly for laughs, were really intended for a more adult audience. It’s easier to get some of the jokes if you grew up in the 30s and 40s, or had watched a lot of old B&W horror films on TV as a kid. I fit the latter category and so had enjoyed it immensely when it was originally released while I was in college. But even in 1974 I immediately spotted several logic flaws such as the time period inconsistencies (mainly clothing). I chalked it up to “setting the mood” of the film so it would more closely mimic the 1930s. My interpretation of the two train scenes was simply Brooks’ humorous way of saying people are the same all over the world. Ignoring the anachronisms and previously discussed fallacies, there still remains one subtle but critical logic flaw that nobody seems to have noticed or addressed. When the monster finally speaks intelligently, he give a poignant soliloquy about how people were always frightened by his looks, which eventually turned his thoughts from love to hate and violence. How is this possible when the brain harboring these memories was replaced with a completely different one? This is, perhaps, the greatest logic flaw of all. One last point I’d like to make concerns an underlying message, not only in this movie, but in its predecessors, and that is how fear can turn anyone into a monster. Just look at the behavior of the townspeople when they form into a mob. Even in a comedy this theme is present and should never be dismissed.
Thank you for your wonderful comment. I appreciate your explanation of that joke that always struck me as odd. You make excellent points about the ending. Well said!
While a lot of what you say is true….don’t forget New fadter editing, pacing and your watching a storyline that was fresh in 74, but has been stolen from and enhanced dozens of times since you first saw it…seems a little stale now. I notice this with almost everything that I loved as a kid, or young adult….it’s no longer new..
“There’s a modern-looking Brain Depository in Transylvania”
Um… What would a period-correct Brain Depository look like?
Anyway, this section “Mixed-Up Time Periods” and the “Can You Tell Me How to Get… How to Get to Transylvania?” parts are missing the point. Young Frankenstein is a parody of the Universal Gothic Horror movies, and one of the things it’s making fun of is the way that those movies are set out of time and space. They’re filled with historical anachronisms, they can never make up their mind if they’re in England, Romania or Germany, they have characters who will ride a horse from London to somewhere in continental Europe, etc.
Most of your other criticisms are on point, so this is minor and probably just down to your not being as obsessive about the movies it’s parodying as Mel Brooks was.
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Excellent points. I’ve never been a fan of monster movies, so those jokes went over my head. But I can see now that this film is paying homage to the old monster movies, right down to the black-and-white presentation. Thank you.
Disagree with everything you wrote haha. Love this movie and I appreciate it more with further views as some gags or very subtle jokes are picked up on subsequent views. Madeline Kahn was brilliant in the film and never broke character (I actually found her to be to most convincing even in the more zany scenes. Wilder overacts at times but it’s more amusing and fits the film.) A parody film with a tap dancing Frankenstein doesn’t need time period consistencies – and likely was purposely done this way (not even an oversight). This will always be a hilarious classic in my eyes and many others!
No worries. Thank you for the comment and for being so kind about it. This was one of my early articles when I was still finding my voice, so it’s rather flawed. My tastes have changed over time, and I’ve been able to do much better work since this one. 🙂
If I say, “I’ve watched this movie 50 times”, I’m not exaggerating, ok? It is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. I know everything by heart and start giggling a few seconds before things happen or are said. I already own all of Mel’s movies and yet, whenever YF comes on TV, I WILL STILL DROP EVERYTHING AND WATCH IT!
Who cares about the silliness and inconsistencies and the logic anyway?! It is just plain FUNNY!!! Just sit back, veg-out and enjoy the overall experience without LOOKING for faults; whatever you feel at the end… THAT’s the emotion that you should keep.
…and for those who think there’s something wrong with me: I’m a mechanical engineer, I have been an athlete all my life (never even TOUCHED drugs of ANY sort) and I LOVE movies; from oldies (B&W) to Sci-fi. Did I mention I have an IQ of 163?
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Thank you. I definitely admit some of my criticism of the film isn’t warranted, but I simply can’t turn my brain off when I watch a film, even a comedy. Comedy is one of the hardest things to do well, so I appreciate it when it actually works on film, not because it depended on my feelings, but because it was executed in a smart way that can come across as silly.