IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH MEL BROOKS REVIEW: “High Anxiety” stars Mel Brooks (Mr. Peabody & Sherman , The Little Rascals ), Madeline Kahn (Paper Moon, Clue), Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, The Croods), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show [TV series], Jingle All the Way), Ron Carey (The Troublemakers, Lucky Luke), Howard Morris (Splash, The Andy Griffith Show [TV series]), Dick Van Patten (Westworld , Soylent Green), Jack Riley (The Long Goodbye, Rugrats [TV series]), Charlie Callas (Switch [TV series], Crooks), Ron Clark (Top Gun, The Funny Farm), Rudy De Luca (Spaceballs, Million Dollar Mystery), and Barry Levinson (Bee Movie, Quiz Show). It is directed by Mel Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay with Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, and Barry Levinson. Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks), a psychiatrist with an immense fear of heights, arrives at the Psychoneurotic Insitute for the Very VERY Nervous to fill a position, only to discover something dark and twisted is going on behind the scenes.
“High anxiety! Whenever you’re near…” Ah, Mel Brooks. Going for Alfred Hitchcock now, yes? Well, let’s see what yah got. I think the biggest downside to watching this spoof film is how I have only seen one Hitchcock feature. Yes, I know, it’s shameful; I’ve been meaning to watch more of his work. So, I saw this without that advantage, the whole purpose to this picture being made. Really, I was looking for another fun hour and a half of entertainment, much like Brooks’ works before this one. Does it hold up? Yes, but not as much. If there’s one thing Brooks got right with “High Anxiety,” it’s his jokes on tense situations. While I haven’t seen many of his films, I know Hitchcock’s tropes, particularly how he tries to put an audience on edge at every possible turn. One of the first jokes featured in “High Anxiety” is Mel getting freaked out by a screaming older woman, who rushes him in what seems to be murderous intent; turns out those screams were of joy, as she passes Mel and hugs her husband who just landed. Such hostility, such unrest. That’s “High Anxiety” for you, and they’ve got more where that came from. Compared to his other flicks, this entry of Brooks has a more uninteresting story. There’s several murder capers out there (particularly those involving a mental institution), and the writers of this clearly wanted to work their story into the jokes rather than the other way around. This leaves for a slew of random moments that range from hilarious to mediocre. I didn’t laugh as much as I wanted to with this film, but when I did it was typically a really good joke. There’s a few memorable scenes within the movie, particularly involving Cloris Leachman’s Nurse Diesel, a killer with braces, and an unforgettable music number spoofing Frank Sinatra. Mel wrote and performed the titular song “High Anxiety,” and it took me back to his former musical bits such as “Springtime for Hitler” and Young Frankenstein’s rendition of “Putting on the Ritz.” You can’t beat a good music number within a comedy. The performances that took the screen in this were fairly good. Mel played a solid lead (as he does), and is supporting by a strong bunch of actors, with comedy veterans Leachman, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, and Ron Carey. They all bounced off each other and sold the jokes rather well (even if some didn’t land). Mixing his usual blend of visual gags and meta humor, Brooks and crew make “High Anxiety” a pretty entertaining adventure. It’s not his best work, as there’s clearly a decline in quality (both in story and jokes), but it does what it set out to do. If you like Brooks’ style of humor and fancy yourself a Hitchcock fanatic, I’m sure you’ll get a some sort of kick out of this. FINAL SCORE: 78%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: