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.