This is a pretty easy movie to review because personally, Young Frankenstein is the cinematic equivalent of chicken soup to me. It has lived on through scores of people quoting the movie verbatim, it's arguably the best work of director Mel Brooks, he of Blazing Saddles lore, it represents a clever ode to one of Hollywood's most famous films, the jokes remain funny and enjoyable through all these years, and perhaps most importantly, since everyone's seen it, there's not a lot of heavy lifting to be done by yours truly.
Nevertheless, Brooks and Wilder fleshed out more detail behind the story of Frederick, great-grandson of Victor Frankenstein, played by Wilder, as a man reluctant to embrace the work of his family due to the cryptic nature of it. This reluctance goes to far as to pronounce his last name differently, even though everyone knows how to pronounce it (think if someone had the last name "Hitler" but pronounced it with a long I.) Frederick decides to go back to Transylvania, at first being curious of what his great-grandfather did, and when asked to continue his family's work, he was apprehensive at first, but eventually decides to continue it, with the help of his assistants Inga (Teri Garr, Tootsie) and Igor (Marty Feldman, Yellowbeard), and Frankenstein estate housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show).
Like many people, I think that 1974 was perhaps the zenith of Brooks' creative powers, as right before this, his Western satire Blazing Saddles received huge amounts of acclaim and laughs right behind them, as he managed to introduce racial prejudices in a way that viewers (or this viewer, anyway) were unaccustomed to seeing before. And because of that, he managed to develop a subtly effective statement of racial tolerance. This might have been by accident to be sure, since the film also includes a lot of the humor that became staples in Brooks' films. That said, it's presumably no accident that Wilder and Madeline Kahn, who appears in Young Frankenstein as Frederick's fiancée, were in Blazing Saddles.
And while Wilder and Kahn and a whole host of talented others are here in Young Frankenstein, the story is that Wilder thought of the idea and he and Brooks worked on a screenplay for it, and this film is a little more "fun," if you will. It is reverent in heart and spirit to the James Whale film that starred Boris Karloff, and that loyalty to Mary Shelley's material provides for some pauses in the storytelling, which Brooks manages to diffuse with pitch perfect tone and delivery. Wilder and Kahn were known commodities at the time of the film; Garr and Feldman were known to far fewer people, and they wind up serving as excellent compliments to the story. This was Feldman's first real exposure to American audiences, and his facial features were perfect for the role of the disfigured Igor (pronounced eye-gore, in an attempt to keep pace with his boss early on), but he displayed a slapstick humor that hadn't been seen for several years to that point, and he didn't hesitate to break the fourth wall down for audiences to serve as their guide once Frederick gets to Transylvania.
Then you have the dialogue. "Abby someone." "Sed-a-give?!?" It's hard to not start quoting the script from scene one to fadeout, but a lot of what goes on in the material still stays funny after all these years. Later Brooks films have not survived the test of time, but this one still holds up. Some jokes feel childish, and they are, but others include words that help show the characters are a little out of their element and a little immature. I didn't hear before, nor have a heard since, a starring character using the phrase "yummy sound" in a movie. Have you? The Library of Congress has Young Frankenstein on a small group of films selected for preservation and it's easy to understand why; it helps serve as an example of parody and satire that remains a comedy classic.
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of Young Frankenstein uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec and for me, is the first film I can recall seeing on Blu-ray that's an entirely black and white affair. You're not going to get a dazzling visual feast by any means, although film grain is present through the whole feature, albeit a little heavy. You'll also see that the monster's makeup definitely shows through on Blu-ray too, I could see the seams for his head prosthetic and the zipper on his neck in just about every scene, and when the monster (played by Peter Doyle) visits Harold the Hermit (Gene Hackman), the makeup shading on his face really stands out. I know, they weren't preparing for high definition media and all, but I figured you should know. Regardless of all of that, Young Frankenstein looks as good as it's going to look.
Like other Fox catalog titles, you get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack, but they also thoughtfully include the mono track as well. This sound experience occurs all up front with an occasional speaker pan or two, and directional effects are non-existent, as is subwoofer activity. Dialogue sounds consistent in the center channel without any adjustment, and the soundtrack is devoid of any issues and sounds clean as can be. It's a solid piece of work from Fox.
Admittedly I was a little nervous when this was initially announced for release, as Fox has previously released older catalog titles without the supplemental material from their standard definition titles. But not only do they bring over all of the material from the standard definition edition, but there's also some Blu-ray exclusives to boot. "Inside the Lab" is the picture-in-picture material which you can either play with the feature, or separately in chapters (29:45). It includes historical context from fans and admirers of the film, along with new interviews with Brooks, Garr and Leachman, and the cast from the musical discuss Brooks as well. There might not be much here, but it's a thoughtful addition. And along with the seven deleted scenes on the previous SD disc (16:27), there are some more deleted and extended scenes for the high definition disc, no less than 17 of them (25:01). The scenes aren't much funnier than the other scenes, but they look a little cleaner and are funny for the Feldman outtakes. "It's Alive! Creating a Monster Classic" (31:16) is a featurette in which Brooks discusses the genesis of the idea, and the film's success is covered, along with some thoughts on the cast by the earlier-discussed members of the film and musical, and the Gene Hackman appearance is even talked about. "Transylvanian Lullaby" (10:29) discusses the work that composer John Morris did on the film, along with his other work in Brooks films like Silent Movie and High Anxiety. Morris and his wife discuss the work as well, and peers like Marc Shaiman discuss how good Morris' work was. There's also a "Franken-Track" subtitled trivia track option that is also exclusive to Blu, along with an isolated music track available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. There is something called a "Blucher Button," but when selecting it from the menu didn't seem to do anything.
I mentioned that the standard def stuff was here too and it's nothing to sneeze at either. Brooks' commentary is very active and fun, but it's not entirely informative. He discusses the cast and crew that are no longer around either. The older performers are usually a nice nostalgia trip when it comes to commentaries, and this one isn't that different. "Making Frankensense of Young Frankenstein" (41:52) is more focused on Wilder's recollections on the production, with extensive interviews with him, and the featurette covers more on the production and set design than the other pieces did. Some of the material is redundant from the Blu-ray material (or vice versa, if you will), but it's nice to get the other thoughts here. The blooper reel is next (5:01), followed by five trailers, 9 TV spots and Mexican TV interview footage with Feldman (3:45) and Wilder and Leachman (2:53) next, along with a production photo stills gallery to round it out.
I'm pleasantly surprised by what Fox did for Young Frankenstein. The film remains a cinematic gem, the technical qualities of it are worth the upgrade, and the fact that they slapped new features onto this puppy will hopefully make them revisit some discs already out in the market that are devoid of their material. It's a definite addition to your collection, and you can even double-dip without reservation.