Jay Cocks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Of course [Young Frankenstein's] funny. And of course it's grating, flatulent, desperate—all in the best and the worst manner of Mel Brooks. As comic and as film maker, Brooks wants to knock you cockeyed. For a laugh, he will do anything, try anything. He rains gags. After a Brooks bit, audiences can be exhausted; after a Brooks film, there is the lingering feeling of having been pummeled. Brooks is like a young, slightly skittish fighter whose energy compensates for lack of finesse. He hits out wildly, continuously, hoping that a few punches will land…. The bedrock of all Brooks films is frenzy; the nominal subject of Young Frankenstein—the skyhook for all the madness—is a satirical exhumation of Mary Shelley's classic. The Shelley story ought to have turned wormy by this time from virtually constant exposure. It is, however, still a powerful myth. One good measure of its resiliency is that even when Brooks is lampooning it, the story remains compelling, nearly inviolate. When Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein tries to zap life into a grotesque, inanimate form, the movie goes serious despite itself. The myth is better, more involving than the jokes being made about it….

Brooks is always at his best making fun of the delicious stupidities of popular entertainment (recall Springtime for Hitler in The Producers), and this scene, with scientist and subject in top hat and tails performing Puttin' On the Ritz, is some sort of deranged high point in contemporary film comedy.

For moments like that, Brooks can be forgiven almost anything. He always furnishes plenty that needs forgiving, but his best scenes are madder, funnier, more inspired than anything being done in movies today, including the rather coddled comedy of Woody Allen. Brooks must also have got tired of people telling him what a maladroit technician he has been, and he has taken some pains to correct that failing here. Young Frankenstein is his best-crafted film so far.

Jay Cocks, "Monster Mash," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1974), December 30, 1974, p. 2.