With “Young Frankenstein” (1974), the team of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder set out to make a parody of the original “Frankenstein” Trilogy produced by Universal Studios in the 1930’s. Elements of the three movies (“Frankenstein” from 1931, “Bride of Frankenstein” from 1935 and “Son of Frankenstein” from 1939) are combined in the story of a young doctor who tries to overcome the scandalous history of his family -- the house of Frankenstein. This clip successfully parodies the scene in the original that sets up the scientific basis for the experiments that Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) will conduct to create the monster. Here, it is Frederick (Gene Wilder) setting the stage, while in the original it was Dr. Waldman (Edward van Slone), Henry’s old professor, who did so. While Waldman discusses, dispassionately, the differences between a good brain and a criminal one, Frederick discusses, with great passion the difference between “hearts and kidneys” and the central nervous system. Wilder’s performance also parodies the performance of Colin Clive in the first two original movies, both his calm, almost plaintive, talking voice, and his frantic, almost lunatic, shouting voice. The settings for both the original and this remake is in a lecture hall in a teaching hospital. The skeleton on the stand recalls the original, in which the class laughed at one that bounced when it was jarred. The insistent student (Danny Goldman) hectoring Frederick represents a role reversal, for in the original, it is Henry, the ex-student who taunts Dr. Waldman.
This scene demonstrates Wilder’s observation that the story successfully fused the comic subtlety of Wilder’s parody with the broad slapstick Mel Brooks. The setting and verbal slapstick has Wilder’s subtlety, while the physical slapstick has the blatancy of Brooks. The scene builds slowly, and then crescendos violently. Mr Hilltop (Liam Dunn) is brought in to demonstrate the difference between voluntary and involuntary motor impulses. Frederick sets up the demonstration of voluntary reflex in a calm, even boring, way (Wilder), then he shows involuntary reflex with threatening profanity and a faked knee to the groin (Brooks). Then its back to the calm presentation, as the clamp is put on a nervous Mr. Hilltop (Wilder) and he is kneed in the groin for real (Brooks). The clamp is violently removed, and he collapses “like a bunch of broccoli” and writhes in pain (Brooks). Frederick tells the assistant to “give him an extra dollar” (Wilder). Note: These parenthetical citations are speculative (as are all that follow), but they make the point. Later with the hectoring student, we see more subtle verbal parody with his comment about the vermicelli, when Frederick asks “Are you talking about the worm or the spaghetti?” When “The worm.” is the answer, Frederick wryly comments that he must remember that “a worm, with very few exceptions, is not a human being.” (Wilder). The scene culminates with Frederick shouting wildly that his grandfather’s work was “doo-doo,” as he mistakenly thrusts a scalpel into his thigh (Brooks). The scene shows how the combination of Wilder and Brooks brought out the best in each other and produced an art film that was seen and enjoyed by a lot more than 14 people.
While the gags would have worked just as well in color, the effect of the parody is heightened by the use of black and white. The lighting and contrasts of black and white creates atmosphere, heightens shadows and makes the difference between light and dark more stark. All of these factors combine to give the finished product the look and feel of the Universal originals