I love Young Frankenstein almost as much as Young Frankenstein‘s Elizabeth loves monster … loving. It is quite possibly the most perfect comedy ever, and one I appreciate more and more as I get older. There are plenty (plenty) of funny moments in this movie, fluidly fitting together like the most graceful choreography to become better than its separate parts. However, one of the best moments of the movie is arguably the one scene that isn’t funny.
Remember back to what is essentially the climax of the film. Dr. Frankenstein and his assistants have captured his monster. The only way to calm his abby-normal brain is to perform a very dangerous experiment — transferring some of the doctor’s intelligence into the monster. As the procedure is nearing completion, the angry mob led by Kenneth Mars‘ Inspector Kemp flock in and angrily start to dismantle the machine, grabbing Frankenstein … but they’re stopped by a new voice. The voice of the monster.
The monster (played by the incomparable Peter Boyle) orders them to stop as he tells his story — how he started his life afraid and confused. Because he couldn’t understand what was going on around him, he lashed out at anyone in his path … until the doctor put his own life on the line to help his creation.
A big component of Mary Shelley’s original story is the monster’s evolution from creature to intelligent being. Many if not most Frankenstein movies portray the monster as only the lumbering mute brute. But here is this parody of a Frankenstein movie that showcases this character going from an animal to a man, albeit not exactly the same way as the novel.
Few satires have the nerve to put this serious speech in their movie, but Mel Brooks is just that sort of filmmaker. And Peter Boyle is perfect in this moment — calm, eloquent and touching with a quiet inner strength. In short, it’s reason and truth quelling hate and rage. You can look at older serious films with moments like this and the speech still holds up — it’s just written that well. The scene ends with the monster accidentally pulling off the inspector’s wooden arm, opening the comedic floodgates once more. With a rowdy “To the lumberyard!” from the now lopsided inspector, the rioters disperse and we move into the epilogue.
When comparing Young Frankenstein to newer, lesser satires like Epic Movie and Disaster Movie, this scene is just one bigger example of why Young Frankenstein is so very superior. It’s not just the better jokes, better actors and an actual semblance of a plot (although that does of course add up to good film-making) … Young Frankenstein also has a huge amount of heart, and I absolutely love it for that.