Friday, January 06, 2017
Directed and starring Mel Brooks and written by Brooks, Barry Levinson, Ron Clark, and Rudy De Luca, High Anxiety is the story of a renowned psychiatrist who deals with mysterious circumstances at the institute he‘s been hired to fun while dealing with his fear of heights. The film is a tribute/parody of sorts to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, who also contributes to the film’s script, as it play into the world of suspense and horror but in a humorous fashion as it relates to the many situations this doctor would encounter. Also starring Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, and Dick Van Patten. High Anxiety is a witty and exhilarating film from Mel Brooks.
The film revolves around a renowned, Nobel prize-winning psychiatrist who travels to Los Angeles to head a psychiatric institute after its head doctor had been mysteriously murdered where he would encounter a series of strange events. It is a film that follows many storylines made famous by the films of Alfred Hitchcock as well as play into the elements of suspense. Notably as this psychiatrist has a immense fear of heights as it’s an issue he hasn’t resolved as he’s aided by his old mentor who also works at the institute. The film’s screenplay isn’t just filled with many references to Hitchcock to form its own story but also has its own approach to suspense that is leaned towards comedy.
The fact that Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is dealing with his own issues makes him an easy target for two of the film’s antagonists in Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) who want to control the institute for their own selfish reasons. It would lead to a plot where Dr. Thorndyke is put into situations where he meets a patient’s daughter in Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn) who is convinced that her father is in danger. There is a cleverness to the script in not just the way the suspense is plotted but also in the characters as Dr. Thorndyke is often accompanied by chauffer in Brophy (Ron Carey) who often takes photographs for odd reasons. These are the many quirks that the writers would put in as they would also create scenes that would make fun of famous moments from Hitchcock movies.
Brooks’ direction doesn’t just provide a lot of the visual traits and motifs that is common with Hitchcock but also find ways to turn it into gags as well as provide little moments that accidentally breaks down the fourth wall. Shot in various locations around Los Angeles and San Francisco, Brooks definitely takes advantage of the locations which doesn’t just owe a lot to many of Hitchcock films with Vertigo being the most obvious. Still, Brooks finds a way to bring something of his own in not just a few gags but also some hilarious scenes such as a moment where he and Victoria try to get through the airport security through disguises as it is just a riot to watch. There are also moments that is very stylized for the fact that Brooks would take great advantage of low camera angles to play into the suspense and mix it up with humor as well as the way the camera would zoom in some scenes. It all plays into this humorous take of suspense as its climax isn’t just inventive but also very funny. Overall, Brooks creates a very delightful and entertaining film about a psychiatrist dealing with a mystery and his fear of heights.
Cinematographer Paul Lohmann does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography from the usage of lights and moods for some of the scenes at night to the more naturalistic scenes set in the day. Editor John C. Howard does nice work with the editing as it is quite straightforward with some stylish cuts that play into the suspense and humor. Production designer Peter Wooley, with set decorators Richard D. Kent and Anne MacCauley, does brilliant work with the design of the institute and some of its rooms as well as some of the sets created as homage to the films of Hitchcock.
Costume designer Patricia Norris does fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes that Nurse Diesel wears to the clothes of Victoria Brisbane as well as she and Dr. Thorndyke would wear as disguises. The special visual effects work of Albert Whitlock is terrific for some of the minimal things that pay homage to Hitchcock‘s films including the moments where Dr. Thorndyke deals with his anxieties. The sound effects of William Hartman and Richard Sperber are superb for the way it play into the suspense and how it also add to its humor. The film’s music by John Morris is amazing for its orchestral-based score that owe a lot to the music of Bernard Herrmann as well as moments that are quite playful including a title song written and performed by Mel Brooks.
The film’s phenomenal cast feature some notable small roles from Lee Delano as a half-shaven orderly, Ron Clark as a patient who fears werewolves, Ron De Luca as a mysterious figure known as Braces, Barry Levinson as an uptight bellhop, famed Hitchcock special effects supervisor Albert Whitlock as a patient, Charlie Callas as a man who thinks he’s a dog, and Dick Van Patten as a fellow doctor in the institute in Dr. Wentworth who would become a victim in a scheme that adds to the mystery. Howard Morris is superb as Dr. Thorndyke’s mentor Dr. Lilloman who tries to cure his protégé over his fears as well as reveal what might be going on in the institute. Ron Carey is fantastic as Brophy as a photograph-obsessed chauffer who befriends Dr. Thorndyke as he always struggle to do things right while having his own theories into what is going on.
Cloris Leachman is excellent as Nurse Diesel as this intimidating nurse with a mustache and a penchant for torture who is the real mastermind behind a lot of what is going on as well as being very funny in what she does to Dr. Montague. Harvey Korman is brilliant as Dr. Montague as a scheming psychiatrist who is trying to create more chaos for his patients and wants to run the institute as Korman is just funny throughout for what he tries to do. Madeline Kahn is amazing as Victoria Brisbane as the daughter of a patient who believes something isn’t right as she tries to see if her father is alright as her character is a homage of sorts to some of the heroines in Hitchcock’s film while having her own moments that are just hilarious. Finally, there’s Mel Brooks in an incredible performance as Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke as a psychiatrist with a fear of heights as he copes with some of the strange things happening as well as a being a victim of these strange events where it’s Brooks being absolutely hilarious.
High Anxiety is a sensational film from Mel Brooks. Featuring a great cast and some hilarious gags, it’s a film that isn’t just one of Brooks’ finest film but also a film that fans of Alfred Hitchcock would love for not just the references. It’s also for the fact that it’s a homage to the filmmaker whom the film is dedicated to. In the end, High Anxiety is a remarkable film from Mel Brooks.
Mel Brooks Films: The Producers - (Twelve Chairs) - Blazing Saddles - Young Frankenstein - (Silent Movie) - (History of the World, Part 1) - Spaceballs - (Life Stinks) - Robin Hood: Men in Tights - (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)
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