It’s more silly than funny but don’t let that stop you from seeing High Anxiety, Mel Brooks’ homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s film career.
If you are a Hitchcock fan you’ll likely enjoy this film, if only to pick out the many references to his films. High Anxiety takes its form from the film Vertigo, however there are many other Hitchcock film references. I picked out Psycho, North by Northwest, Spellbound and The Birds. Beyond Hitchcock there were references to the Jaws character from the 007 film The Spy Who Loved Me and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. Mel Brooks himself seemed to pay homage to Frank Sinatra by singing the title track in Sinatra’s trademark tone and cadence.
Brooks recruited his usual suspects into this film. Madeline Kahn did a great job as the Kim Novak analog but Cloris Leachman was simply outstanding as Nurse Diesel. Costuming and makeup helped to create her character; the little mustache, the ice cream cone bra, the slight hunch inserted into her tops that made her look like she had no neck. Leachman herself added a sinister component by creating an affected speech pattern; all her “r”s were held a little bit too long in a growl and all her “s”s were hissed.
Since I was gifted the BluRay version, I was able to watch the interview with Brooks, Leachman and others. Brooks said that although there was a script it was nearly impossible to keep Leachman and her partner-in-crime, Harvey Korman confined to the words on the page. Apparently Leachman and Korman ad-libbed their way through everything in a competitive one-upmanship manner and in the final edit Brooks kept the ad-libs over the scripted version of their scenes.
Hitchcock was known for filming at odd angles with frequent zooms in and out. Brooks did the same in High Anxiety, however he added a comic element such that the filming becomes obfuscated by other objects. The scene filmed under a glass coffee table becomes obfuscated by plates and saucers, the camera fishes around but at every opening another barrier comes down. The camera pans out on several occasions, once breaking a window, later taking out a whole wall. The scenes stop abruptly and everyone looks at the camera with surprise. Apparently even the camera gets laughs in Brooks’ films.
If you’re looking for a 90 minute decompression or you’re just interested in seeing the the King of Spoof pay tribute to the Master of Suspense, High Anxiety is a good watch.