Mel Brooks' filmmaking career has been a continual source of amazement and amusement for me. Highlighted in The Producers, the unique combination of sophisticated wit and Yiddish vaudeville that inhabit his brilliant comic mind materialized in Brooks’ brilliant yet often erratic films. The manic hilarity of the 2,000 year old man and the distinctly crazy sense of humor that established Brooks as a legendary comedy writer and presence transferred often in a visually shocking way. Mel Brooks' distinct method of transferring his madness into movies became his signature calling card.
High Anxiety is a psycho comedy dedicated to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Brooks fashioned a hilarious and fully realized homage to Hitchcock that's wildly funny from beginning to end. The master and his films are admittedly rich subjects for satire and Brooks builds this fertile comic premise into a precisely executed film that easily ranks with any of the great film comedies ever made. A talented team of writers including Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, and Barry Levinson, who all perform in the film, collaborated with Brooks on the screenplay.
Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke
From the moment Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) disembarks from the plane that's delivered him from Harvard to his new job as the head of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute For The Very, Very Nervous in California, patterns of mayhem and mystery are already apparent. Thorndyke's batty driver Brophy (Ron Carey), alludes to the fact that the Dr.'s predecessor was murdered and informs him of Dr. Charles Montague's (Harvey Korman) caddish desire for the recently vacated job. Staffers like Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), with her water-wing breasts and faintly sinister mustache, tend to reinforce Brophy’s contentions. In the process of learning the layout of the Institute, Thorndyke discovers Professor Liloman, his aging mentor from Harvard, is also a member of the strange staff.
Professor Lilloman, a disheveled gremlin played to perfection by Howard Morris, is too absent-minded to diagnose any foul play but he does detect that Dr. Thorndyke still suffers from a height phobia known as high anxiety. While the professor analytically searches for a cure by probing the psychological roots of Thorndyke's problem, the doctor looks into the Institute's irregularities. The appearance of a voluptuous blonde named Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), who claims that her father's a prisoner of the Institute, interrupts his stay at a Psychiatric Convention in San Francisco. The resolution of the events inexplicably swirling around Thorndyke provide plenty of room for Brooks' inspired lunacy.
I wouldn't describe the barrage of puns, sight gags, and profound silliness in High Anxiety if I could. A devastating send-up of the psychoanalytical community, direct parodies of famous Hitchcock sequences and Brooks' broadly oddball approach to suspense films blend together beautifully. With a solid foundation and an experienced corps of comedy players, often overshadowed by the secondary players like Cloris Leachman, High Anxiety scores with an extraordinarily high percentage of its material. The overall concept remains flexible enough to accommodate the pulsating spoof of suspense music running throughout the film and Brooks' schmaltzy rendition of the looney title tune. The director's inventive visual style, especially evident in his artful applications of the genre's basic devices, revealed a deeper understanding of the medium than any of his previous films to that point had conveyed.
High Anxiety proves that you can make great film comedy out of genre parody, Mel Brooks is impeccable when finding that right genre. High Anxiety is the kind of movie that can start you laughing again days after you've seen it by remembering one of any number of its tasty bits. Brooks' success on this film encouraged him to continually expand his filmic horizons. High Anxiety supplies superlative entertainment.
The Shower Scene
High Anxiety proves that you can make great film comedy out of genre parody, Mel Brooks just needed to find the right genre. I would give anything to be able to fill a theatre with laughter the way Brooks does in High Anxiety's shower scene. It's the kind of movie that can start you laughing again days after you've seen it by remembering one of any number of its tasty bits. Brooks' success here should encourage him to continually expand his filmic horizons. High Anxiety supplies superlative entertainment and certainly stands the test of time.