Friday, 9 November 2012

High Anxiety (1977)

It's another top class spoof from Mel Brooks, this time taking aim at the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, and while I enjoyed many individual moments (the riff on The Birds is juvenile but also damn funny) I didn't feel that the whole thing worked as well as it could, or should, have.

The biggest plot developments, and indeed the title itself, are derived from Vertigo - the film that, despite stiff competition, just edges ahead of the pack to remain Hitchcock's finest hour. Mel Brooks plays Richard H. Thorndyke, a man who is appointed as the new administrator for the Psychoneurotic Institute For The Very Very Nervous. There's something not quite right at the institute, something that Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) seem to be covering up. Maybe it's to do with a patient named Arthur Brisbane (Albert Whitlock), a man kept there despite him being in fine physical and mental health according to his daughter, Victoria (Madeline Kahn).

Written by Brooks, as well as Ron Clark, Barry Levinson and Rudy De Luca, the film lacks the gag quotient of, say, Blazing Saddles while the references to the original movies aren't always as immediately recognisable as they are in Young Frankenstein. Having said that, there are plenty of details and little touches that will please fans of Hitchcock even if they aren't always played for laughs.

The performances are all pretty good, in line with the material, but the best moments come from the fantastic Cloris Leachman and the equally fantastic Harvey Korman. In fact, the very best moments feature both stars bouncing off one another and wringing the maximum amount of laughs from each line.

Okay, so comparing this movie to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein is probably quite unfair because they are two of the best spoofs ever made so I should make it clear that High Anxiety certainly rewards attentive viewers and will undoubtedly be a film that I return to now and again for some guaranteed chuckles.


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