Last week I introduced my children to a movie which had a great impact on my appreciation of cinema growing up – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I made the grave error of showing them the High Anxiety parody of Psycho‘s famous shower scene prior to us watching Psycho. So when Janet Leigh removes her slippers to enter the shower my children chuckled reflecting on Mel Brook’s fate in the High Anxiety which ruined any suspense of this iconic scene. Pyscho is of course one of the most influential horror movies ever made, changing the movie landscape for ever. It contains one of the most memorable movie scores and is constantly listed in the upper echelon of greatest movie lists.
High Anxiety is one of Mel Brook’s lesser-known comedy outputs, but it is my joint favourite film from him along with his classic Young Frankenstein. The whole movie is basically a parody of Alfred Hitchcock movies including humorous spin-off scenes from Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and Spellbound. It also pokes fun at Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, in the camera tracking through walls, and even James Bond films with an assassin who shares a similarity with the Bond villain Jaws. I find it a little guilty pleasure rewatching High Anxiety as there are just so many scenes which make me break out laughing.
Dr. Richard Thorndyke arrives as new administrator of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous to discover some suspicious goings-on. When he’s framed for murder, Dr. Thorndyke must confront his own psychiatric condition, “high anxiety,” in order to clear his name.
I am baffled why High Anxiety has such mediocre ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes (6.7 and 72% respectively). This is Brooks’ first film as a producer and first speaking lead role. The film as alluded to above was dedicated to Hitchcock, who also worked with Brooks on the screenplay. Wikipedia states: Brooks took great pains to not only spoof Hitchcock films, but also to emulate the look and style of his pictures. In an interview he said, “I watch the kind of film we’re making with the [director of photography], so he knows not to be frivolous. He’s got to get the real lighting, the real texture.
When I watch High Anxiety I can’t help but be drawn to the 1963 comedy – The Nutty Professor starring Jerry Lewis. I find many parallels between the two films. They are both uneven screwball spoofs but hilarious when they hit. The standout performances in High Anxiety are from Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel and Madeline Kahn as the blonde femme fatale who finds herself in one ditzy situation after another.
I couldn’t recommend High Anxiety enough for those who enjoy Mel films and / or admire Hitchcock films. Like all of Brooks’ best movies, the plot would work just fine as a straight thriller, and the spoofing is as affectionate as it is hilarious.