Mel Brooks Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. - Essay

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Frankenstein story, as we all know, is about a creature made up entirely of misappropriate and mismatched parts. That's pretty much the way Mel Brooks has made his new film, Young Frankenstein, too. Since all comedy has to be based on some sort of incongruity, this approach works out pretty well for Brooks. Most of the parts he has misappropriated come out of other people's movies. Besides having stolen the whole idea for this movie from James Whale's Frankenstein (1931), Brooks has, for instance, stolen the hairdo for one of his stars, Madeline Kahn, from Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). At times, as when Miss Lanchester's streak job is set atop Miss Kahn's head, the stolen parts hardly look out of place at all. At other times, as when Brooks' monster (Peter Boyle) clomps his way through a Fred Astaire number of about the same vintage as the hairdo, Brooks is purposely letting all the sutures show. (p. 421)

A good deal of Brooks' energies in Young Frankenstein have been devoted to keeping up our awareness of his movie as a movie. He realizes that the culture on which his insanity really feeds is not Mary Shelley's England nor Transylvania nor even America at large, but just Hollywood. For this reason Young Frankenstein is, from its overall composition to its isolated details, a comedy of production errors. The whole movie has been thrown together from spare parts of other movies as if it were a bin full of out-takes, a face off the cutting-room floors where Hollywood's campiest films were made. The migration of Igor's hump and the switch-hitting the chief does with his prosthesis look like the mental lapses of some script girl who should be maintaining continuity in such details, but isn't quite up to her job. In vowel shifts that occur in a single one-liner, as in the execution of entire sequences, movie conventions fly through the air in this film in a mad jugglery that never lets us get down to earth for a moment. (p. 422)

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., in Commonweal (copyright © 1975 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), February 28, 1975.