The umpteen-thousandth viewing, and still worth revisiting. Noticed this time how extensively the film pokes fun at film itself. The process of film is inherently deceptive: actors pretend to be what they aren’t, cuts cover up countless takes and sew together some truly nasty seams, cliches are simply everywhere, etc., etc. By drawing the viewer’s attention to the filmmaking process, Young Frankenstein makes a joke of film history. Conveniently, it borrows its story from one of the most classic films from Hollywood’s early sound days, Frankenstein.
The film begins with Wilder’s Dr. Friedrich Frankenstein teaching what would appear to be an advanced class in medical school, only to have to explain the most ridiculously elementary aspects of brain function and be barraged with questions like, “What’s the difference between reflexive and voluntary nerve impulses?” The silliness of the question sidesteps the need to create a clever way to introduce the film’s subject matter. And when the doctor insists on an unconventional pronunciation of his name, the student gives another ridiculously lengthy question about the doctor’s background, confirming with comedic overtness to the audience that, yes, this fellow is related to the famous “Frankenstein” we all know about.
To point out every such example of the film’s attention to filmmaking conceits would take too long, so here are a few. Eyegor’s hump moves back and forth, to comedic effect. This acknowledges the fakeness of the hump and its obligatory presence based on faithfulness to the source material. Sexual double entendres are everywhere: “What knockers!” “Would you like to have a roll in ze hay?” “Elevate me.” Nearly all of them seem to involves Teri Garr’s character Inga, the predictably buxom, and blonde, laboratory assistant. The presence of the blonde in film is so often merely sexual, and a threat to the more stable, conservative, and win-able brunette, who typically wants to restrain the sexuality of the (male) protagonist rather than let it thrive in the here and now, disrupting the narrative to the gratification of the audience.
At one point, Eyegor draws a ridiculous (hard to avoid using this word a lot) hypothetical picture of a figure Dr. Frankenstein can use for the great experiment. While showing it off, he hangs it on a hook clearly prepared for it, inexplicably set in the middle of the wall. Holding it crookedly, he releases it and lets it swing as the film dissolves to a body hanging from a noose, also swinging from side to side. There are numerous tools of humor being used in all of this, but the sheer absurdity of this contrived transition mainly draws attention to the artificiality of the filmmaking process. Nothing is so smooth in reality, so Mel Brooks exaggerates cinematic tools and achieves a humorous result.
Others. When Frankenstein and Eyegor lift the coffin out of the grave, they are underneath it. This joke is so subtle, really, that it would be easy to miss. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it celebrates the fact that it doesn’t need to make any sense. When the doctor complains, “What a filthy job!” Eyegor state that it could be worse: “Could be raining.” Of course, thunder and lightning are the immediate effect, and the rains come pouring down on them. Again, utterly artificial and impossible, but doable in the filmmaking process and typically used for suspenseful effects, but Brooks undermines this and turns it into comedy. Similar to the grave-lifting, Frankenstein’s initial trip to Transylvania from the US is via railway. Various wipes draw viewer attention to a squabbling couple that argues in different languages as the train car’s interior reflects the changing local regions. In the meantime, the absurdity of a trans-Atlantic train goes nearly unacknowledged. By refusing the rational requirement to take a boat or plane across the ocean, the film again acknowledges its own fakeness, and its freedom to violate the rules of filmmaking.