High Anxiety (Movie Review)

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I’m a major Mel Brooks fan, so when I realized I’d never watched this film I hurried to do so. And it was by no means his best work (also not his worst), but it had some truly funny moments despite its flaws. This Alfred Hitchcock parody is very much a hit-and-miss movie with a lot of misses and a significant handful of hits that make it inevitably charming and mildly worth watching. The problem however comes with the Hitchcock-parodying. The parodying just doesn’t seem to be the driving figure in this film, it’s much rather the cast and Brooks-style humor that keeps the film afloat.

Mel Brooks seems like a charming and charismatic version of Woody Allen, and just like Allen, Brooks’ leading roles in his own films tend to seem a little self-indulgent. Brooks does much better in smaller roles (such as in Spaceballs and History of the World: Part I), but when he takes one of these larger roles he seems to drag down the movie with his occasionally dull leading-actor acting (kind of like in Silent Movie). In this role that seems to happen. But Brooks does have a good sense of comedic timing, and this straight-man style acting does compliment his otherwise not-so-straight resume of characters and provide nice contrast.

Madeline Kahn plays opposite Brooks, and despite the mild lack of onscreen chemistry that could have made the movie shine just a tinge brighter, she is funny and compliments the screenplay very well with her very Hitchcock-esque acting. In the smaller bit-parts Brooks manages to throw in a handful of Brooks-movie favorites. Most notable is Cloris Leachman as the sadistic Nurse Diesel who is absolutely frightening, yet uncomfortably humorous at the same time. Playing her love-interest is the much straighter Harvey Korman who has wonderful chemistry with Leachman, but whose performance does not quite match her level. Playing the lowyal and sweet side-kick character to Brooks is Ron Carey whose comedic timing matches Brooks’ perfectly and which fits wonderfully into the film.

The screenplay, written by Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca and Barry Levinson, however is where the movie starts going south. The major problem is that none of the Hitchcock parodying truly works, as it seems like a sort of awkward attempt at putting in as many references rather than actually poking fun at him. But part of it could also come from the fact that Hitchcock has in several of his own movies poked fun at himself and the film noir genre, and parodying a parody just seems awkward and uncreative. Imagine a parody of Spaceballs, that would be very awkward an feel like a second-hand script in a sense. The movie truly works best when Brooks throws in his own style of jokes and story telling with his absurd characters and charming gags.

The movie does tough keep a nice pace and doesn’t seem to drag at all, but Brooks film rarely do. They’re short, but never drag. The movie looks nice for what it is, a fairly cheap 1977 movie. The sets are nice and the costumes are quirky and the cinematography is upbeat and works well. The movie’s original song “High Anxiety” is also fairly catchy and serves as a (fairly forced) way to showcase Brooks’ fine singing voice. However the best part of the movie in my opinion is the extremely cheesy vertigo-inducing backdrop that is used when Brooks’ character has high anxiety.

Brooks fans should watch, Hitchcock fans really don’t need to watch. And everybody else, if you feel the need to insert a 94 minute movie that offers of a platter of awkward Hitchcock jokes as well as a handful of good Brooks jokes then go ahead and watch this mediocre Mel Brooks film.

Best Aspect- Cloris Leachman

Worst Aspect- The Hitchcock parody stuff

Rating- 6.2/10

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