The film is an affectionate parody of the classic horror film genre, in particular the various film adaptations of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein produced by Universal in the 1930s. Most of the lab equipment used as props was created by Kenneth Strickfaden for the 1931 film Frankenstein. To help evoke the atmosphere of the earlier films, Brooks shot the picture entirely in black and white, a rarity in the 1970s, and employed 1930s' style opening credits and scene transitions such as iris outs, wipes, and fades to black. The film also features a period score by Brooks' longtime composer John Morris.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a lecturing physician at an American medical school and engaged to the tightly wound socialite Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn). He becomes exasperated when anyone brings up the subject of his grandfather Victor Frankenstein (German /ˈfrankenʃtaɪn/, in English traditionally /ˈfrænkenstaɪn/), the infamous mad scientist; to dissociate himself from his forebear, Frederick insists that his surname is pronounced /ˈfrankenstiːn/. When a solicitor informs him that he has inherited his family's estate in Transylvania after the death of his great-grandfather, the Baron Beaufort von Frankenstein, Frederick travels to Europe to inspect the property. At the Transylvania train station, he is met by a hunchbacked, bug-eyed servant named Igor (Marty Feldman), and a lovely young personal assistant named Inga (Teri Garr).
Upon arrival at the estate, Frederick meets the forbidding housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). Upon discovering the secret entrance to his grandfather's laboratory and reading his private journals, Frederick is so captivated that he decides to resume his grandfather's experiments in re-animating the dead. He and Igor steal the corpse of a recently executed criminal, and Frederick sets to work experimenting on the large corpse. Matters go awry when Igor is sent to steal the brain of a deceased revered historian, Hans Delbrück; startled by lightning, he drops and ruins Delbrück's brain. Taking a second brain, Igor returns with a brain labeled "Do Not Use This Brain! Abnormal", which Frederick unknowingly transplants into the corpse.
Soon, Frederick is ready to re-animate his creature (Peter Boyle), who is eventually brought to life by electrical charges during a lightning storm. The creature takes its first halting steps, but, frightened by Igor lighting a match, he attacks Frederick and must be sedated. Meanwhile, the townspeople are uneasy at the possibility of Frederick continuing his grandfather's work, unaware of the creature's existence; most concerned is Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars), a one-eyed police official with a prosthetic arm, whose German accent is so thick that even his own countrymen cannot understand him. Kemp visits the doctor and subsequently demands assurance that he will not create another monster. Upon returning to the lab, Frederick discovers Blücher setting the creature free. After she reveals the monster's love of violin music and her own romantic relationship with Frederick's grandfather, the creature is enraged by sparks from a thrown switch and escapes from the Frankenstein castle.
While roaming the countryside, the monster has frustrating encounters with a young girl and a blind hermit (Gene Hackman). Frederick recaptures the monster and locks the two of them in a room, where he calms the monster's homicidal tendencies with flattery and fully acknowledges his own heritage, shouting out emphatically, "My name is Frankenstein!". Frederick offers the sight of "The Creature" following simple commands to a theater full of illustrious guests. The demonstration continues with Frederick and the monster launching into the musical number "Puttin' On the Ritz". However, the routine ends disastrously when a stage light explodes and frightens the monster, who becomes enraged and charges into the audience, where he is captured and chained by police. Back in the laboratory, Inga attempts to comfort Frederick and the two wind-up sleeping together on the suspended reanimation table.
The monster escapes when Frederick's fiancee Elizabeth arrives unexpectedly for a visit, taking Elizabeth captive as he flees. Elizabeth falls in love with the creature due to his inhuman stamina and his enormous penis (referred to as Schwanstücker or Schwanzstück). The townspeople hunt for the monster. Desperate to get the creature back, Frederick plays the violin to lure his creation back to the castle and recaptures him. Just as the Kemp-led mob storms the laboratory, Frankenstein transfers some of his stabilizing intellect to the creature who, as a result, is able to reason with and placate the mob. Elizabeth marries the now erudite and sophisticated monster — with her hair styled identically to that of the female creature from the Bride of Frankenstein, while Inga joyfully learns what her new husband Frederick got in return during the transfer procedure — the monster's Schwanzstücker.Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
Peter Boyle as The Monster
Marty Feldman as Igor
Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher
Teri Garr as Inga
Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp
Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth
Richard Haydn as Herr Falkstein
Liam Dunn as Mr. Hilltop
Danny Goldman as Medical Student
Oscar Beregi as Sadistic Jailor
Arthur Malet as Village Elder
Richard Roth as Insp. Kemp's Aide
Monte Landis and Rusty Blitz as Gravediggers
Anne Beesley as Little Girl
Gene Hackman as Blindman
After several box office failures (which included now-cult classics The Producers and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), Gene Wilder finally hit box office success with a pivotal role in the 1972 Woody Allen film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). It was around that time that Wilder began toying around with an idea for an original story involving the grandson of Victor Frankenstein inheriting his grandfather's mansion and his research.
Wilder had played around with screenwriting earlier in his career, writing a few unmade screenplays that were, by his own admission, not very good (the story idea of one of those early screenplays would form the basis of his 2007 novel My French Whore.) While writing his story, he was approached by his agent (and future film mogul) Mike Medavoy who suggested he make a film with Medavoy's two new clients, actor Peter Boyle and comedian Marty Feldman. Wilder mentioned his Frankenstein idea, and within a few days, sent Medavoy four pages of his idea (the entire Transylvania train station scene, which he had started writing after seeing Feldman on Dean Martin's Comedy World.)
It was Medavoy who suggested that Wilder talk to Mel Brooks about directing. Wilder had already talked to Brooks about the idea early on. After he wrote the two-page scenario, he called Brooks, who told him that it seemed like a "cute" idea but showed little interest. Though Wilder believed that Brooks would not direct a film that he did not conceive, he again approached Brooks a few months later, when the two of them were shooting Blazing Saddles.
In a 2010 interview with Los Angeles Times, Mel Brooks discussed how the film came about:
I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said, "Not another! We've had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law. We don't need another Frankenstein." His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, "That's funny."
In a 2016 interview with Creative Screenwriting, Brooks elaborated on the writing process. He recalled,
Little by little, every night, Gene and I met at his bungalow at the Bel Air Hotel. We ordered a pot of Earl Grey tea coupled with a container of cream and a small kettle of brown sugar cubes. To go with it we had a pack of British digestive biscuits. And step-by-step, ever so cautiously, we proceeded on a dark narrow twisting path to the eventual screenplay in which good sense and caution are thrown out the window and madness ensues.
Unlike his previous and subsequent films, Brooks did not appear onscreen as himself in Young Frankenstein, though he recorded several voice parts and portrayed a German villager in one short scene. In 2012, Brooks explained why:
I wasn't allowed to be in it. That was the deal Gene Wilder had. He [said], "If you're not in it, I'll do it." [Laughs.] He [said], "You have a way of breaking the fourth wall, whether you want to or not. I just want to keep it. I don't want too much to be, you know, a wink at the audience. I love the script." He wrote the script with me. That was the deal. So I wasn't in it, and he did it.
Mel Brooks wanted at least $2.3 million dedicated to the budget, whereas Columbia Pictures decided that $1.7 million had to be enough. Brooks instead went to 20th Century Fox for distribution, after they agreed to a higher budget. Fox would later sign both Wilder and Brooks to five year contracts at the studio.
While shooting, the cast ad-libbed several jokes used in the film. Cloris Leachman improvised a scene in which Frau Blücher offers "varm milk" and Ovaltine to Dr. Frankenstein, while Marty Feldman surreptitiously moved his character's hump from shoulder to shoulder until someone noticed it, and the gag was added to the film, as "Didn't you used to have that on the other side?", an elaboration/follow-up to an earlier joke where Dr. Frankenstein offers his cosmetic services and is met with the response "What hump?"
In one of the scenes of a village assembly, one of the authority figures says that they already know what Frankenstein is up to based on five previous experiences. On the DVD commentary track, Mel Brooks says this is a reference to the first five Universal films. In the Gene Wilder DVD interview, he says the film is based on Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).
Young Frankenstein was first released onto DVD November 3, 1998. The film was released onto DVD the second time on September 5, 2006. The film then released on DVD the third time on September 9, 2014 as a 40th anniversary edition along with the Blu-ray.
ABC Records released the soundtrack on LP on December 15, 1974. On April 29, 1997, One Way Records reissued it on CD. There are pieces of dialogue by the actors as well as background and incidental music on the disc. The LP and disc are now out of print and command a very high price on Internet auction sites when available.
- Main Title (Theme from Young Frankenstein)
- That's Fron-Kon-Steen!
- Train Ride to Transylvania / The Doctor Meets Igor
- Frau Blücher
- Grandfather's Private Library
- It's Alive!
- He Was My Boyfriend
- My Name Is Frankenstein!
- Introduction / Puttin' On the Ritz
- A Riot Is an Ugly Thing
- He's Broken Loose
- The Monster Talks
- Wedding Night / End Title
- Theme from Young Frankenstein (Disco Version) – performed by Rhythm Heritage
Brooks adapted the film into a musical of the same name which premiered in Seattle at the Paramount Theatre and ran from August 7 to September 1, 2007. The musical opened on Broadway at the Foxwoods Theatre (then the Hilton Theatre) on November 8, 2007 and closed on January 4, 2009. It was nominated for three Tony Awards, and starred Tony winner Roger Bart, two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, Tony & Olivier winner Shuler Hensley, two-time Emmy winner Megan Mullally, three-time Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald, and two-time Tony & Emmy winner Andrea Martin.
NominationsAcademy Award for Best Sound, Richard Portman and Gene Cantamessa (1975)
Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder (1975)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Cloris Leachman (1975)
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, Madeline Kahn (1975)
WGA Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder (1975)
Cloris Leachman was nominated as a lead despite Madeline Kahn having far more screen time.
WinsHugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Young Frankenstein (1975)
Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Writing, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder (1976)
Saturn Award for Best Horror Film, Young Frankenstein (1976)
Saturn Award for Best Direction, Mel Brooks (1976)
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor, Marty Feldman (1976)
Saturn Award for Best Make-up, William Tuttle (1976)
Saturn Award for Best Set Decoration, Robert De Vestel and Dale Hennesy (1976)
Golden Screen Award, Young Frankenstein (1977)
Toronto Film Festival Award for Best Comedic Film, Mel Brooks (1976)
In 2011, ABC aired a primetime special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best movies chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Young Frankenstein was selected as the No. 4 Best Comedy.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #13
2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Puttin' on the Ritz" – #89
2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
Igor: "What hump?" – Nominated
2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
2007: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated