Young Frankenstein

(1974) **** Pg
108 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Mel Brooks. Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman.

/content/films/3238/1.jpgJust three months after my parents were yelling "It's alive" in the delivery room, Mel Brooks gave birth to one of the funniest American film comedies ever made. Though my birth year is, for all intents and purposes, apropos of nothing, maybe it owes something to my deep affinity for Young Frankenstein. I was raised to love black and white movies, and here's one of the best looking of the color era. Director/co-writer Brooks and star/co-writer Gene Wilder brilliantly spoof the Universal Frankenstein films (lovingly skewering Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein) while creating their own emotional, comedic take on Mary Shelley's classic tale. Above all, Young Frankenstein is freakin' funny.

On the strength of Young Frankenstein alone, Gene Wilder can lay claim to being one of the funniest actors ever to grace the silver screen. Having devised the idea for the film, Wilder also turns in an uproarious leading performance as Frederick Frankenstein ("Frahn-ken-steen!" he habitually corrects), grandson of the inafamous grave-robbing reanimator Dr. Victor von Frankenstein. When Frederick inherits his grandfather's castle, he travels to Transylvania to check out the family homestead and discovers he may have more in common with Victor than he'd care to admit.

Under the direction of Mel Brooks at his comedic peak, a just-so confluence of comic stars clicks into place to support Wilder with blooming comic invention: Marty Feldman as the Goon-y lab assistant Igor, Cloris Leachman as severe housekeeper Frau Blücher, Madeline Kahn as snooty Elizabeth, Teri Garr as buxom lab assistant Inga, Kenneth Mars as one-armed Inspector Kemp, and Peter Boyle as a sensitive, sweetly stupid Monster. And yep, that's Gene Hackman as the blind man whose well-intended hospitality towards the Monster goes terribly awry.

The latter scene is one of several quoted in detail from the original Universal films. Brooks' affectionate commitment to reviving the style and mood of James Whale, more than ably abetted by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld and composer John Morris, gives this wacky comedy surprising and substantial depth of mood. The palpable collegiality of a game cast tickling themselves and each other comes across in a catalog of irreverent stage and screen comedy styles, from vaudeville to the Marx Brothers to Chuck Jones to Monty Python. But Young Frankenstein also pays sincere homage to Mary Shelley's original novel--its horror, its sadness. As such, the film transcends the parody form.

/content/films/3238/2.jpgOn a new Blu-ray special edition, Brooks cheekily apologizes for the "takeoff movie." The dregs of recent years, like Meet the Spartans, are notable only for their lack of ambition, presenting less comic invention than the most wan Mad Magazine movie parody. But its gleeful raunchiness notwithstanding, Young Frankenstein needs no apologies. Each indelible laugh follows in furious succession from the one before, and before you know it, Brooks has made you cross through the nonsense to discover empathy for his cartoony characters. It's a work of sublime pop art, a deathless comedy classic.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

Street date: 10/7/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

No kidding, kids! Fox has delivered, at long last, a definitive special edition of Young Frankenstein. The old non-anamorphic DVD is now a distant memory, and a new Blu-ray packed with significant new bonus features effectively banishes the current anamorphic DVD to an early grave. The image is nothing short of gorgeous; a hint of contrast waver is the only nitpick I can make, and even that is probably an artistic intention intrinsic to the original elements. The source is clean and the transfer offers great detail. Grain is moderate and natural, preserving the film's 1930s black-and-white style. Perhaps most importantly, the picture is steady, with no sign of jitter or compression artifacts. A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio soundtrack makes the absolute most of the source material. It's hard to imagine any fan being even remotely disappointed with this A/V presentation.

The Blu-ray special edition will have fans immediately busting up with laughter. The brand-new PiP track Inside the Lab: Secret Formulas in the Making of Young Frankenstein is made up of 11 segments accessible either as pop-up windows during playback, or from the menu. The first of 11 segments is "Sources of Inspiration" (5:23), kicked off by Mel Brooks riffing on how beautiful he looks on Blu-ray before going into a hilarious "Charles Laughton as Quasimodo" impression. Further insights are shared by Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, James Whale biographer James Curtis, film historian Scott MacQueen, Boris' daughter Sara Karloff, and Mel Brooks super-fans Marc Shaiman (stage and screen composer) and Alan Spencer (creator of Sledge Hammer! and teen set visitor to Young Frankenstein).

Further segments include "Transylvania Station" (3:52); "Grave Robbing" (1:18) with added participants choreographer Alan Johnson and Sutton Foster of Broadway's Young Frankenstein; "Stealing a Brain" (2:27); "The Creation" (2:51); "Inspector Kemp" (2:03) with added participants Thomas Meehan (Broadway co-writer); "The Monster and Helga" (1:54), adding Broadway actor Shuler Hensley; "Harold the Hermit" (2:36), adding Broadway director/choreographer Susan Stroman; "Puttin' on the Ritz" (2:54), adding Broadway actor Fred Applegate; "Storming the Castle" (2:08), adding screenwriting super-fans Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant; and "The Monster's Bride" (2:21).

Next among the new Blu-ray features is a new selection of Deleted Scenes in HD (25:01). There are seventeen in all, though several are alternate takes. The terrific new HD doc "It's Alive: Creating a Monster Classic" (31:15) gathers the PiP participants to share their reflections on the making of the movie, its cast, its special quality of humor, and its impact. Also new and in HD is the long overdue featurette "Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris" (10:29), which adds comments by Morris himself, his wife Francesca, and film music historian Jon Burlingame. Last among the Blu-ray upgrades is something called the "Blücher Button" (three guesses what that does when you press it).

In addition to all the shiny new bonuses, Fox includes all previous DVD extras, beginning with an eccentric and highly entertaining screen-specific audio commentary by Mel Brooks. There's also an Isolated Score Track to enjoy Morris' lovely music and the great documentary "Making Frankensense of Young Frankenstein" (41:52 in SD), which plugs in any holes in the story by featuring extensive interviews of Gene Wilder, producer Michael Gruskoff, assistant editors Stan Allen and Bill Gordean, and cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld. The original selections of "Deleted Scenes" (16:27 in SD) and "Outtakes" (5:01 in SD) return, as do the Mexican Interviews with Marty Feldman and Wilder & Leachman (6:38 with "Play All," in SD).

Rounding out the disc are 3 TV Spots (3:21 with "Play All"), 5 Trailers (7:07 with "Play All"), and a slew of Production Photographs. This all-time classic should immediately rise to the top of your Blu-ray Wish List: it's a master class in film comedy squeezed onto a single Blu-ray disc!


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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