I'm simply saying all this because "Young Frankenstein" is not simply one of my favorite comedies ever; it is one of my favorite movies ever. I wrote a comment about "Blazing Saddles" where I mentioned the fact that it came out the same year as "Young Frankenstein", and both movies had the same director (the GREAT Mel Brooks) and the same star (the INCOMPARABLE Gene Wilder, also co-writer). They also happen to both be among the funniest movies of all time, which is an incredible achievement.
Between the two, I give the edge to "Young Frankenstein"; it's my favorite among Brooks's movies, and second only to "Airplane!" (by those other founding fathers of the spoof, Zucker Abrahams and Zucker) on my list of greatest comedies of all time. And this movie IS well-acted, well-directed, and (in its way) original. In fact, there's much to love about this movie besides how funny it is. But it also happens to be side-splittingly hilarious, and that's what gives it the edge over other comedies.
The cast is led by Gene Wilder, who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced FRONK-en-steen, so as to differentiate himself from his infamous grandfather). Frankenstein is a serious scientist who never went for his grandfather's kooky theories about reanimating the dead and resents the connection people make upon hearing his name. But when he finds out that his grandfather's castle has been left to him in his will, he is forced to take a trip out to Transylvania. In Transylvania he is met by Igor (who prefers to go by the pronunciation "Eye-gor", but obviously only to mock his boss). Igor is the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein's servant, and comes to serve Frederick while he's in Transylvania. Played by Marty Feldman, he's the only character who seems fully aware of the goofiness all around him; he is comic relief in a movie that is already a comedy. And with those unbelievable eyes, all he had to do was look at the camera and he could get a laugh. RIP, Marty Feldman.
Frederick also meets hot-blooded Inga (Teri Garr putting on a ridiculous German accent; hands down the best thing she's ever done PERIOD) upon his arrival, and they head to the castle where they meet Frau Blucher, the caretaker. Frau Blucher is played by Cloris Leachman, who of course is always funny. This sets up one of the best running gags in the movie; every time someone says her name, the horses whinny.
At first, Frederick resists his grandfather's research. But after Inga wakes him up from a nightmare, they hear violin music, and find a secret passageway that leads to the original Frankenstein's laboratory. On the way down they also run into Igor, but don't find out who was playing the violin (which they do find, unattended and still warm, along with a smoldering cigar). They do, however, find Frederick's grandfather's notes (including a book titled "How I Did It"). Reading these notes, Frederick decides that bringing life to the dead could work after all, and sets to work digging up corpses and sending Igor for a brain (he breaks the one he was supposed to get and picks up an abnormal one instead). And so Frederick, Igor, and Inga set to work on their grand experiment.
At first, it doesn't seem to work. But when the creature does finally come to life, it's a crazy monster. It escapes, the townspeople (led by Kenneth Mars as Inspector Kemp, and he is hilarious as usual) want to kill it, and they have to get it back.
As I'm writing this, it is three days past Peter Boyle's death, and this is a pity. The world will be a bit less funny without him. He was pitch-perfect as the monster, making it every bit as much his own as Boris Karloff did in the original. He commented once that this was his favorite part of his. His ability getting laughs with just some exaggerated movements, subtle facial expressions and groans was without peer, and the bit where he and Frederick are on stage singing "Puttin on the Ritz" is among the funniest scenes in movie history.
The cast is rounded out by Madeline Khan as Frederick's virginal fiancé Elizabeth. Madeline Khan was an extremely funny woman and although she doesn't have much screen time in this movie, she makes her time count. RIP, Madeline Khan.
And Gene Hackman must be mentioned as well. I've always been a huge fan of Hackman's, and although his cameo as the blind man isn't his best part ever, it is his funniest, and makes for some of the funniest bits in the movie ("Come back! I was going to make espresso!" he yells out as the monster runs screaming from his house).
What makes this movie work so well is that it almost seems to take itself seriously. It has an original plot that pays homage to the original Universal pictures with nearly every scene. It's shot in black-and-white, and everything, including the haunting score, Gothic cinematography, and set-pieces, many of which came from the original pictures, is meant to evoke Frankenstein movies of old. It's this hushed level of reverence to the originals juxtaposed with the hilariousness of the script and over-the-top performances of the actors that really sets this movie apart. It is a work of genius in every way.
RIP, Peter Boyle, Oct 18 1935 - Dec 12 2006.