Friday, June 1, 2012

#655. High Anxiety (1977)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Starring: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman

Tag line: "Danger, Intrigue, Romance... and a Touch of Kinkiness!"

Trivia: Three of the film's writers appear in comic supporting roles

High Anxiety is writer/director Mel Brooks' send-up of Alfred Hitchcock movies, surely one of the few filmmakers in the history of motion pictures worthy of an entire spoof of his own!

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) has just been appointed head of the Institute for the Very Very Nervous, the leading mental health clinic on the West Coast. However, Dr. Thorndyke, along with being one of the country's most prominent psychiatric minds, also suffers from a crippling fear of heights, a condition known as “High Anxiety”, which makes his flight to California to accept the post a harrowing experience. 

He's met at the airport by the Institute's chauffeur, Brophy (Ron Carey), who informs Thorndyke his appointment was opposed by both Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman), who wanted the job for himself, and senior nurse Charlotte Diesel (Cloris Leachman). As Dr. Thorndyke settles into his new position, he comes across some disturbing discrepancies, including the fact that the facility's wealthiest patients are being held long after their scheduled release date. 

Fearing he might blow the whistle on their illegal activities, Montague and Diesel frame Thorndyke for murder. Suddenly a wanted man, Dr. Thorndyke has no alternative but to turn to Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), the daughter of a patient at the Institute, for help.

High Anxiety is bursting at the seams with Hitchcockian references. The main story, concerning a psychiatrist trying to track down a murderer, is straight out of Spellbound, and the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, where most of the film's first half takes place, looks a lot like the convent featured in a key scene in Vertigo. For that matter, Brooks' decision to set the second half of the film in San Francisco, as well as having a lead character afraid of heights, also harkens back to Vertigo

But it's High Anxiety's straight-on spoofs of Hitchcock films that will have you laughing out loud, including its brilliant take on the Psycho shower scene and a rather messy run-in with some pigeons that owes a lot to 1963's The Birds. Brooks even throws in a direct reference to one of the Master's most famous pictures when he tells Victoria to meet him at the “ Northwest corner” of the park. 

Yet High Anxiety is more than just a Hitchcock parody. There are also a handful of funny moments lampooning psychiatry (while speaking at a conference, Thorndyke attempts to “clean up” his presentation on penis envy after spotting a couple of youngsters in the crowd) and a musical number in which Brooks himself belts out the movie's title song (a tune you'll be humming for days).

Filled with nods to Hitchcock's greatest works, High Anxiety is a loving homage to the master of suspense, presented by one of the screen's finest comedic minds.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I love this movie! This and Young Frankenstein are my favorite Brooks movies. The thing I like about High Anxiety is that it's an actual story, not just an excuse for a bunch of skits like so many of Brook's films.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Robert: I'm a big Mel Brooks fan, and have been for many years. I love all his movies (well, the ones prior to LIFE STINKS, anyway), but I bet I've seen HIGH ANXIETY more than any other (except maybe BLAZING SADDLES). I suppose it's because I'm also a Hitchcock fan from way back, and this one fits quite neatly into both camps!

As always, thanks for the comment!

James Robert Smith said...

I saw it first-run at a theater. I was sorely disappointed. After having seen THE PRODUCERS, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and BLAZING SADDLES, I expected something of that caliber. Alas, those days were behind him, as I sadly learned with each of his new movies (until I stopped watching new Mel Brooks films).