Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Movie Review: "High Anxiety" (1977)

Director: Mel Brooks
Year: 1977
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Psychiatrist Dr. Thorndyke has just taken over as director of a prestigious Los Angeles mental hospital after his predecessor suddenly and mysteriously died. As time goes by, it becomes clear that there is something fishy going on in the sanitarium, and it turns out, his life may be in danger.

High Anxiety 1977 Mel Brooks movie Harvey Korman werewolf scene
"If you're loud and annoying, psychologically, people don't notice you." (Image Source)
Director Mel Brooks takes a (literal) stab at Alfred Hitchcock thrillers with his spoof "High Anxiety." The film tells the story of Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks), who has just taken over as the director at the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous in Los Angeles after the previous director mysteriously ceased to exist. When Thorndyke arrives at the clinic, some of the staff members are glad he's there, but it becomes increasingly clear there are a couple of staff members, mainly Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), who hold some resentment that he has been brought in to help them. They also seem to be hiding some shady practices that the institute has been engaging in for quite some time. If Thorndyke or anyone else were to find out, it could put their lives at risk. 
High Anxiety 1977 Mel Brooks movie Harvey Korman Cloris Leachman
"Too much bondage! Too much discipline!" (Image Source)
Mel Brooks specializes in making spoof movies, which he helmed for four decades before making his final feature in 1995. When you think of Brooks's repertoire, typically films like the fabulous "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," and "Spaceballs" come to mind first. "High Anxiety" isn't among the cream of the crop batch of his work, but that doesn't make it any less funny. When we first watched this film, we didn't like it all that much. Since our first encounter with "High Anxiety," we have seen several Hitchcock movies, so we may have a better appreciation for the jokes and gags this time around. As is the case with most spoofs and satires, we see references to numerous films including "Psycho," "North by Northwest," and "Vertigo," just with a goofball twist. A lot of the humor is very, very silly and can often be super stupid, but we just can't help but laugh. The scene where he walks through the park with all of the birds? The shower bit where he gets stabbed by a bellboy with a newspaper? Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman tangled up in a sadomasochistic affair at work? SO, SO GOOD. As with most comedies, spoof or otherwise, not every joke or sight gag is a winner, and we do feel that the film loses a little steam on occasion (particularly towards the middle-end). Brooks joins up with many frequent collaborators including the previously mentioned Leachman and Korman, plus Madeline Khan, and Dick Van Patten, and as usual, they all work very well together and play off of one another really well.
High Anxiety 1977 Mel Brooks getting stabbed with a newspaper in the shower Psycho
"That kid gets no tip." (Image Source)
We readily admit that "High Anxiety" is not Mel Brook's best feature. It's not his quickest or brightest film, and it can be a little dated especially if you aren't exceedingly familiar with Hitchcock's work, but it is still hilarious more often than not. We'll love Mel Brooks until the day we die.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
RT Rating: 75%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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