Blu-Ray (1977, 2010)
Mel Brooks wrote and directed “High Anxiety” in 1977 as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock thriller films. Brooks also stars in the film as the new head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous and strange things begin to happen and he must try to get over his issue with heights to clear his name when he is accused of murder.
Mel Brooks plays Richard H. Thorndyke has a phobia of heights and nightmare that are a nod to the film “Vertigo.” Professor (Lill-ol-man) Lilloman played by Howard Morris is based on a character in “Spellbound.” There is a lobby from “North by Northwest” and Mel Brooks has a shower scene using tons of different shots like in “Psycho” letting his character get stabbed with a newspaper and watching ink wash down the drain. An abducted family member follows the story of “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Countless references that I will never fully get unless I commit to going back to the source material.
The story is pretty silly blending all these elements together. There is some greater conspiracy at the Institute about a murder cover-up, phobias, kinky staff, and a mysterious blond trying to save her father being kept there. There are many specific references to Hitchcock films and not all will be easy to catch unless you have watched a lot of them. Mel Brooks worked hard to try and make this film as enjoyable as possible for non-Hitchcock viewers as well but without that knowledge, only the physical comedy comes across. The most memorable part is Mel singing “High Anxiety” with his best Frank Sinatra impression and getting attacked with tons of bird poop from the “Birds”.
This isn’t one of my favorite Mel Brooks movies. I prefer “Get Smart”, “Blazing Saddles”, “History of the World: Part 1″, “Spaceballs”, and “Robin Hood: Men In Tights.” Maybe it is because most of those films were made later and it seems with experience his movies improved a great deal and are edited tighter for jokes. A Mel Brooks movie is a Mel Brooks movie however and as the so-called Master of Comedy if he doesn’t get you to laugh out loud at least once, check your pulse because you may be dead.
As with “History of the World: Part 1″, this film features a Trivia track about Hitchcock movies so you can experience this old classic in a new way…by learning stuff! There are fun and interesting facts referencing which characters, scenes, and situations were created from which Hitchcock movies at a given moment obviously but also about the film like Brophy being named after actor Edward Brophy who often played comic sidekicks in films like voicing the mouse in “Dumbo.” This track is full of very helpful information, especially if you haven’t seen any Hitchcock films but the most famous and will give you ideas of others you want to watch.
The “Am I Very, Very Nervous?” test says “Why spend money on therapy when you can take this test to find out how nervous you are?” After a very long black screen that got my anxiety up that it wasn’t working, it turned out to be another track that plays along with the film with a heart monitor in one corner and a score in another. The movie asks you questions along the way for you to answer with your remote and it keeps tally. You have to answer quickly though or you’ll miss your chance. Just another fun, silly way to bring something new to a movie seen often and keeping you paying attention. There is also an isolated score track on this film like “History of the World: Part 1″ so you can enjoy the music without distraction.
“Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense” Featurette goes over the making of this film and how much Mel Brooks looked up to Alfred Hitchcock and his gift for being able to think about 132 shots and storyboard them in his head and make it happen. Character anxiety was prevalent in all of Hitchcock films and while working on “Silent Film” the crew began to watch his films and wanted to use that wealth of material for a comedy. People called it the Master of Comedy meeting the Master of Suspense and Mel Brooks got together with Hitchcock for script approval and even got suggestions from him. Brooks isn’t lead actor material but he wanted to make it happen anyway! You’ll get some background on what it was like to eat lunch with Alfred Hitchcock and let me tell you, this was a man who knew how to EAT! This is a great little source of background information on the film and has interviews with the actors as they are now.