Study Guide

Young Frankenstein Frankenstein (Gene Wilder)

Frankenstein (Gene Wilder)

That's Fronkensteen to You

The Frankenstein family tree isn't as complicated as you'd expect it to be. At the top, as far as we've traced back, is Baron Beauvort von Frankenstein. He's the crusty skeleton at the beginning of the movie who won't let go of the box he's holding, even though he's a crusty skeleton. His son is Victor Frankenstein. You may have heard of him. He had either a son or daughter, we're not sure (probably a son since the Frankenstein name went on), and that brings us to Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder); protagonist of this film and grandson of the second-most infamous mad scientist in history. (Top honors go to Dr. Jekyll, if only because many people still think "Frankenstein" is the name of the monster and not the scientist.)

Frederick Frankenstein is a pretty braggy, self-described "brilliant surgeon" who doesn't want anything to do with his grandfather's illicit legacy. Imagine if your grandfather did something crazy, like reanimate a corpse or marry a goat, and in about six seconds it's all over the Internet. Would you want to be associated with that person?

Probably not. Especially if you think you're extremely awesome in your own right.

So Frederick tells everyone his last name is pronounced "Fronkensteen." But the apple doesn't fall far from the crazy tree. Hints are sprinkled throughout that it's Frederick's fate to follow in his father's footschtops. From his early scientific conversation about reflexive impulses (and how we're not aware of them) to the dream he has after inheriting the family castle, we can see what's coming:

FREDERICK: Don't give me that! I don't believe in fate! And I won't say it. All right, you win. You win. I give. I'll say it. I'll say it. I'll say it. Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me! Destiny! Destiny!

In this family, lightning does strike twice.

Frederick finds his grandfather's journal, successfully reanimates a monster, wholeheartedly embraces his family's crazy ideals/hairstyle, and finally declares that is name is in fact "Frankenstein," as we all usually pronounce it.

Like Father Like Monster

Frederick Frankenstein's transformation into mad scientist surprises no one. What is surprising though, is the way he treats the monster after he creates it.

We like to compare the literary Victor Frankenstein to a deadbeat dad (or even a mean mommie dearest) but Frederick's the exact opposite. He's actually nice to the creature, doing what all good mothers do to their sons—lie to them. He tells the monster,

FREDERICK: You're a good-looking fellow, do you know that? People laugh at you. People hate you. But why do they hate you? Because they are jealous! Look at that boyish face. Look at that sweet smile. Do you want to talk about physical strength? Do you want to talk about sheer muscle? Do you want to talk about the Olympian ideal?

Frederick teaches the monster how to walk, talk, and even dance as well as a 7-foot tall stitched-together creature can do either. At this point, Frederick's a little more Dance Moms than Mother of the Year, though. He forces to monster to perform a song-and-dance routine, and yells at him on stage when an exploding lightbulb frightens him;

FREDERICK [to MONSTER]:Are you trying to make me look like a fool?

But when the monster finally returns to the castle and climbs its stone walls, Frankenstein insists that no one help him:

FREDERICK: Don't touch him. He wants to do it by himself. You can do it! You can do it! Please, my creation!

And the monster does. He does his crazy man-mommy proud.

Fancy literary people like to argue that the original doctor's sin (the one from Shelley's Frankenstein) isn't creating the monster, but abandoning it. Since Young Frankenstein is a comedy, we can see Wilder's Doctor setting that straight by refusing to abandon his creation. Neat, eh?

What I Did for Love

Out of concern for his creation and his devotion to science, Frederick hooks himself up to a kind of brain-transfer device and becomes somewhat of a monster himself. While the monster becomes articulate and more human, the doctor becomes a little more primitive. But what now he lacks in brains, he makes up in...size. That schwanstucker, you know. So we now realize that this film has been a meditation on what makes us really human, the nature of the soul, and what's truly important in life.

Naaaah. It's just a farce.

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