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Mel Brooks' delirious comedy/thriller is a delight even if you're not already an Alfred Hitchcock fan--but if you *are,* you'll love it even more as you peg specific spoofs/references to such Hitch classics as SPELLBOUND, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH '56 (Brooks' piano bar rendition of the title song is the movie's highlight) and THE BIRDS. While Gene Wilder would've been perfect casting as acrophobic psychiatrist Dr. Richard H(arpo). Thorndyke, Brooks is nevertheless as irresistable as he is irrepressible, with Madeline Kahn a fine match for him as the flakiest mysterious blonde this side of Kim Novak. Brooks' stock company of Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, and Howard Morris (as Professor Little-Old-Man, er, Lillolman) are in fine form. Like all of Brooks' best movies, the plot would work just fine as a straight thriller, and the spoofing is as affectionate as it is hilarious. It's a comedy to go crazy over!
Mel as a psychiatrist? That's crazy!
But it's funny.
And so is "High Anxiety", a spoof of everything Hitchcock, with a few touches of Mel's own creativity dashed here and there.
As head psychiatrist for the Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous, Mel finds strange goings-on involving kidnapping, murder, double-crossing and Harvery Korman in leather.
Nearly every big Hitchcock scene is clobbered as the story progresses: the shower scene in "Psycho", the jungle gym scene in "The Birds", the shooting in "North by Northwest", the climax of "Vertigo".... The list goes on and on.
Mel does too, God bless him. Laugh after laugh after laugh is produced, and Mel and his writers seem to have an inexhaustable supply of sight gags, one-liners and word plays. And they all work.
Suffice it to say, this isn't as funny as "Blazing Saddles", but it's prime Mel and if you're like me, almost any Mel is good Mel.
Eight stars. And he has a lovely singing voice, too.
HIGH ANXIETY suffers only by comparison to Mel's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,
but it stands by itself as a frisky, very funny screwball spoof of the
works of Alfred Hitchcock.
I do agree with others who complain that Mel should have given the Dr. Thorndyke role to someone like Gene Wilder since Brooks does lack the charisma needed to carry this sort of thing. But the other pros in the cast more than made up for this handicap--especially HARVEY KORMAN, CLORIS LEACHMAN, MADELINE KAHN and HOWARD MORRIS.
Cloris Leachman is hilarious as Nurse Diesel (practically repeating her formidable character in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) and Madeline Kahn is equally funny as the blonde femme fatale who finds herself in one ditzy situation after another as she tries to reach her father inside the asylum--here called "Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous." Nothing subtle here. The gags are touch and go, some funny, some painfully unfunny--so it's strictly a mixed bag.
But if you know MEL BROOKS and his kind of satire, this has enough gags to keep you satisfied. Just don't expect anything on the level of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.
Mel Brooks is a very funny man, and though sometimes I think his comedy
is a little on the low side, "High Anxiety" has some truly hilarious
moments. Mel riffs on Hitchcock, right down to Madeline Kahn's gray
suit a la Kim Novak in Vertigo. He combines scenes from "Spellbound,"
"Vertigo," "Foreign Correspondent," "The Birds," "Psycho," "Dial M for
Murder," and "North by Northwest" in this story of a man taking over as
the head of a mental sanitarium, replacing a man who is murd - uh,
dead. Kahn is the Hitchcock blonde whose father is in the asylum. To
give you an idea of this place where the lunatics have definitely taken
over - Cloris Leachman plays a nurse who's into S&M with Harvey Korman.
Both of them are a riot. Mel plays it straight which makes him even
I have two favorite scenes - the first is Mel, doing a perfect imitation of Sinatra's style, singing "High Anxiety" to Kahn. He's fabulous, and the look on Kahn's face is delicious. My other favorite scene is when Brooks and Kahn disguise themselves as elderly people to get through airport security. Psychiatric expert Brooks thinks the more noise you make, the less people notice you. The two of them do a fabulous skit which is priceless.
We really lost a treasure when we lost Madeline Kahn, one of the all-time great talents. It's wonderful to see this and remember her. I do believe that because of the humor, the film can be enjoyed without having seen the Hitchcock films spoofed, but of course, it's all the better if you have. A delightful film.
Though often overlooked in favor of Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, I
believe this to be the pick of Brooks' parodies. Whether you share this
opinion would depend on your familiarity with all things Hitchcockian.
It is not only Vertigo, as the title suggests, that gets the Brooks treatment here, but The Birds, Spellbound and Psycho are all parodied to various degrees of subtlety. Many of these films key scenes are simply re-enacted with comic touches, whilst the Hitchcock formalae is very much in evidence. The style is particularly amusing in its parody. Highlights include a probing camera becoming all too literally intrusive when it crashes through a pane of glass in the window, and a dramatic sound composition turning out to be merely the didactic passing bus load of a touring philamonic orchestra.
Resisting the out and out farce of his earlier effort, Blazing Saddles, and managing not to evolve into simply being a one joke movie such as the tendency of his recent efforts, High Anxiety is Brooks at his most clever. The cast, mainly consisting of Brooks regulars, all display splendidly entertaining and aptly silly impersonations of recognisible Hitchcock stereotypes. It is Brooks' finest hour however, with not only directing, writing, and acting to his credit but singing as well!!!
Mel Brooks, if nothing else, is spectacular at collecting up the
clichés, the stereotypes, the conventions, the seriousness, and at the
same time the joy and entertainment that comes in the different works
he has made fun of over his career (countless westerns with Blazing
Saddles, historical epics with History of the World part 1, the sci-fi
boom of Star Wars/Trek with Spaceballs, silent films with Silent
Movie). Here is no exception, as he tackles squarely the unmistakable
catalog of Sir Alfred Hitchcock. All of the hits are here, and
transfused into a story that is kooky, predictable, but all the while
giving some very good belly laughs. Even if it doesn't always strike
where the iron is unexpectedly hot like with Saddles or the Producers,
it still makes its mark with uncanny ability in making the film
watchable while being often unrelenting (whether everything works
gag-wise or not) with the spoofs.
Mel Brooks stars as Dr. Richard Thorndyke, a psychiatrist with his own problem- a fear of heights (Vertigo, anyone). In the midst of this a murder takes place (it's an usual one, by the way, involving a scene in a car that's unsettling while hilarious). The major set-pieces take place at a hotel Dr. Thorndyke stays at for a conference, where the plot seems to thicken even tighter. At times one wonders if the film maybe should take itself a little more seriously to work, like with Young Frankenstein. But by also not letting up with the silliness and over-the-top gags, there are at least a few that stand-out in the overall Brooks oeuvre. One or two are just plain dumb funny, like a wolf-man imitation ala Harvey Korman to a patient afraid of werewolves during a session with Brooks. More often than not in the film, the gags are very expected, getting right to the point as it were.
The chief examples lie in two scenes that work great, and one that works OK. The first involves a particular bellhop not too fond of getting order for a newspaper (played by a young Barry Levinson), which leads to an all too obvious but shamelessly funny Psycho spoof. Or, of course, the scene in the park with the birds of THE Birds, which remains a truly disgusting scene in some respects (even if the laughs wear down towards the end, its a brilliantly constructed set-up). One that doesn't quite go up to snuff is a near-murder scene by a telephone booth. Madeline Kahn's character is on the other end, and the scene is maybe a little too familiar, even as a Hitchcock parody. Towards the end its funny, but only after the fact. It's not totally that the timing is off, maybe just something else that's hard to say. It might be funnier to others.
Still, its the glee thats put forth in the performances, and the little running gags (i.e. "I'll get it, I'll get it...I don't get it"), to make it a notable entry in Brooks' body of work. If you've seen Hitchcock's films and not Brooks' I'd still recommend it at least once, if only out of curiosity, as just from a film buff stand-point its kind of fascinating how a satirist like Brooks takes on Hitchcock's style, which often had its own morbid sense of humor (Psycho, in some ways, is more of a pitch-black comedy than a horror film). For me, the merging worked well, if not for a great overall comedy. And, at the least, there's another catchy title song by Brooks himself, leading to a sweet nightclub scene.
Mel Brooks arrives at the "Institute" to find suspicious goings on, and tries to find out what's going on and who is behind it. Cloris Leachman and Harvy Korman are fellow doctors at the asylum, and watch over the institute when Mel must attend a conference. Watch for Barry Levinson (writer, director, producer) as he plays the bellboy. Ron Carey from Barny Miller plays the chauffeur who tries to help Mel when he runs into trouble with the always funny Madeline Kahn. The references to all of Hitchcocks films are many and great, and Mel even sings a song in the movie. His speech given for fellow doctors at the conference goes on a little long, but can be forgiven as it is offset by the quick action for most of the movie. Cloris Leachman is hilarious as Nurse Diesel, and her manner is a funny as her costume. Half the jokes in this movie are things as simple as camera angles, facial expressions, and what people are wearing.
At the beginning of "High Anxiety", Mel Brooks arrives at Los Angeles Airport and is lead into the men's restroom by a man who turns out to be a lisping flasher (an excruciating moment). Later in a cocktail lounge, he snaps a microphone cord like a whip and makes Madeline Kahn hyperventilate with passion. Brooks thinks he is so cute, both women AND men want him! It's this kind of egomania that drives "Anxiety" into the ground. The picture might have worked (it's a wacky spoof of Hitchcock moments), but not with this cornball script--nor with Brooks in the lead as a vertigo-prone psychiatrist. He flashes his overbite, mugs like a rubber man, and as the lead writer manages to give himself the final word on everything ("What a dramatic airport!"). The film is offensive visually and verbally--what happened to the style he gave pictures like "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles"? This looks like a failed TV pilot. ** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dr Richard H. Thorndyke is a psychiatry professor appointed to run a
prestigious mental hospital in California after his predecessor dies in
shady circumstances. Once there he starts to suspect foul play and is
contacted by the daughter of a patient who insists her father is being
held against his will ...
This is a truly wonderful, lovingly crafted satire of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, filled with sly references, dazzling recreations of famous scenes, themes and characters from his suspense classics, chiefly The 39 Steps, Spellbound, Vertigo and Psycho, although there are nods to many others (The Birds gag is wonderful). Some of the pastiche is broad but some is also very subtle; for example, the shower scene from Psycho is a riot, with one of the funniest punchlines in any movie, but did you spot that the montage of shots of Van Patten driving through the rain with oncoming headlights glaring at him also comes from Psycho ? The comedy is both beautifully staged and beautifully played - everyone is good, but the late great Kahn in particular is simply wonderful. She really could be a Hitchcock blonde - she's Madeleine Carroll / Kim Novak / Eva Marie Saint - and she plays cool, elegant, neurotic, scared with fearless hilarity. Best of all, even if you haven't seen any Hitchcock films, the movie is still hilarious in its own right, with a wonderfully harebrained plot, some great schtick (the lounge-lizard act, the cocky-doody psychiatry convention discussion, the Yiddish airport security double-act) and more than enough hilarious moments to keep you smiling throughout. My personal favourite gag is the beautifully-framed tracking shot into the French doors of the dining-room; only Brooks could come up with such an inspired moment. Also unforgettable is the fabulously romantic string score by John Morris, which is simply irresistible movie music and drives the film so much higher. Written by Brooks, Clark (the neck-pain / werewolf patient), DeLuca (the teeth-braces killer) and Levinson (the psychotic bellboy), this is a wonderful satirical but easy-going comedy classic, not to be missed.
Mel Brooks has had his stinkers, some much worse than this (Dracula: Dead and Loving it being by far his lowest point), but this came at the end of an era of great comedic successes for him. It's only four years after Young Frankenstein, for instance, which is one of the funniest films I've ever seen. And the concept of this film, a spoof of Hitchcock films, seems like gold. There's more than a dozen well known films and a hundred well known sequences that Brooks could have parodied. For some reason, he forgets to do it through a good 75% of the film, only parodying Vertigo, Psycho, the Birds, and Marnie with one or two throw-aways to North by Northwest. They are all from late Hitchcock, and the only one I may be missing is the Jimmy Stewart version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, probably the only major Hitch film I haven't seen. But these films are only mentioned a little, besides Vertigo, which is, more or less, the basis for 90% of all the parody. There's a take off of Psycho's shower scene, some pigeons poo on Brooks, and there is a flashback near the end that seems to be parodying Marnie. None of those parodies work. Almost none of the rest of the jokes work, either. Cloris Leachman is the only person on screen who ever gets a single laugh, as Nurse Diesel, the wack-job, manly, conniving, dominatrix, but she's trying so hard that she only managed to make me laugh a couple of times. I don't even know what Madelaine Kahn is doing here, although the phone booth/obscene phone call scene was one of the couple of scenes that made me laugh. I hope Hitchcock never actually saw this. I wouldn't be so mean as to call it an insult to his films, but it certainly stands as a major embarrassment to Mel Brooks who can't even demonstrate in his direction that he understands WHY Alfred Hitchcock is "the master of suspense," as he calls him in the kindly dedication. 5/10.
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