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With: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Dick Van Patten, Jack Riley, Charlie Callas, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, Barry Levinson, Lee Delano, Richard Stahl, Darrell Zwerling
Written by: Mel Brooks, Barry Levinson, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca
Directed by: Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 94
Date: 12/25/1977

High Anxiety (1977)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tense of Humor

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With two hit spoofs under his belt, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks took on the narrower and more difficult target of Alfred Hitchcock films. With horror movies or Westerns, the range was much broader; there was more material to play with. But Hitchcock's movies are already so precise and playful that there's very little room for parody. The best Brooks can do is to place himself in the shower with an angry bellhop outside the curtain, or to run through the park with an army of vengeful birds crapping on his suit. Most of this stuff isn't particularly funny however, and even though I watched High Anxiety for the first time in 2010, I'm not sure it would have been very funny back in 1977 either.

Brooks stars as Richard H. Thorndyke, a noted psychiatrist who takes over as administrator of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. He soon discovers that some sinister things have been going on there, and that the nasty Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) appears to be responsible, with help from Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman). (Brooks pretty much gives away the villains at the start.)

Fortunately Madeline Kahn eventually comes on board as love interest Victoria Brisbane; Kahn is capable of some brilliant maneuvering within Brooks' broad characters and dialogue, and she often comes up with comedy gold with something as tiny as a gesture or a pause. Brooks also gets points for bringing Thorndyke to a convention in San Francisco and leaving him there for the bulk of the movie, getting some lovely location shooting in and echoing some scenes from Hitch's Vertigo. Some of the smaller jokes work, however, and it's an overall likeable minor effort in Brooks' filmography. Future Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson co-wrote the screenplay and appears in the film.

Fox released High Anxiety last year as part of a Mel Brooks Blu-Ray box set, and now it has been released as an individual Blu-Ray. It comes with a trivia track, a "nervous" test, an isolated music track, and a brand-new HD featurette on the making of the film.

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