“Blu-ray is so fantastic. It is the most amazing breakthrough in terms of visual perfection and clarity. I look beautiful now! Look how handsome I am now; look how pretty! Anyway, I feel good in Blu-ray,” exclaims Mel Brooks as he introduces the first high-definition presentation of Young Frankenstein, one of his most well crafted, beloved and enduring comic creations.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment recently released the Blu-ray debut of Brooks’ classic comedy, a clever parody of Universal Studios’ 1930s horror franchise based on characters from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Although there are nods to some later Universal sequels, the key films Brooks and co-screenwriter/actor Gene Wilder drew from were James Whale’s landmark Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and the eerie Son of Frankenstein. These films provided ample narrative fodder for Brooks’ brand of satire as well as a unique visual iconography that defined horror in the early sound era of American cinema.
Borrowing the skeletal plot outline of Son of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein introduces American surgeon Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder), grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, who raised the dead and rattled the cages of medical science. Frederick is so eager to distance himself from his grave-robbing grandfather that he pronounces his name “Fronkonstein,” a pronunciation none of the characters gets right. When news of a family inheritance reaches Frederick, he bids a temporary, memorable farewell to his wealthy fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), and heads to shadowy Transylvania. Once there, he meets the cheery hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman), who whisks him out of the fog into a hayride with fetching Inga (Terri Garr) to the family castle. Frederick meets the grim caretaker of Castle Frankenstein, Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), and later, after Igor explains he and Inga are meant to be his assistants, Frederick finds Blucher’s cigar smoldering in an ashtray next to his grandfather’s memoir, How I Did It. He finds himself drawn to the possibility of creating life and quickly exhumes the body of a hanged criminal (Peter Boyle) to experiment.
Townsfolk, particularly Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars), are suspicious of a new Dr. Frankenstein moving into the castle. Suspicious, too, is Elizabeth, who books passage to Transylvania when Freddie just does not call home.
To match the screenplay’s deadpan narrative riff and truly make the parody work, the visual landscape of Young Frankenstein had to emulate the look of the films shot by cinematographers Arthur Edeson, ASC; John J. Mescall and George Robinson. It also required a comic touch. Using the starkly contrasting backdrop of period castles, foggy evenings and heavy allusions to the German Expressionists referenced in the original Frankenstein films, Gerald Hirschfeld, ASC, uncannily re-created the vivid, monochrome imagery with the necessary twist of going for bright, high-key lighting in close-ups and comic moments. In one of this package’s supplements, Hirschfeld explains his work as a simple balance, with the emphasis on dark for the horror references and light for the humorous moments. His fine work is one of the picture’s most memorable assets.
This new hi-def image transfer is a strong effort that makes the film look much younger than its 30-plus years. There have been acceptable standard-definition versions of Young Frankenstein on the market, but none has ever revealed such detail. The slick, film-like, 1080p image is extremely sharp, with visible grain and nuance giving long-unseen life to Hirschfeld’s images. An incredibly wide grayscale ranging from deep, inky blacks to subtle shades of white gives the image vibrant life and illuminates considerable depth of field in some shots. The 5.1 DTS audio track is crisp and fittingly presents John Morris’ warm, memorable music score.
Fox has included all the excellent, rowdy supplements that originally appeared on the 1996 laserdisc, including a 36-minute documentary featuring cast and crew, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailers, TV spots, interviews, and Brooks’ amusing and informative feature-length audio commentary. For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Fox has also delivered 30 minutes of new interviews with Brooks, Leachman, Garr, historians, and cast members from the current Broadway musical adaptation of the film. Also included is a new segment on Morris’ score, a trivia track, additional deleted scenes and fun Gothic menus of the shadowy laboratory with a busy electrical storm sparking the audio. Last, there is the mysterious “Blucher button,” which triggers a clever thrill when pressed.
In his final words in the supplements, Brooks fondly notes, “I loved making Young Frankenstein more than any other movie, and I’m so happy it’s being presented in such an ecstatic and beautiful form.” Indeed. Thanks to a pleasing new transfer, giddy menus and shrieking cacophony of supplements, this entertaining presentation is irresistible. Fans and first-time viewers alike will want to make numerous visits to the lab.