Friday, March 22, 2013

Day Eighty-one - High Anxiety, or "I don't know if Hitch would be proud... but I am."

The Seventies were the golden era of Brooks films... Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, and High Anxiety.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love History of the World, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood:Men in Tights, but there's just something about the Seventies' ensembles and rough sets that made the films feel more like grand stage productions. There was just something about them that tickles the nostalgia bone as well as the funny one.

High Anxiety, when compared to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, is probably a little weaker, but is still pretty funny... especially if you're a fan of Hitchcock's thrillers.

Me? I love'em.

To Catch a Thief is probably one of my favorite classic films of all time and there's a special place in my heart for Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder.

Set in a mental institution that eminent psychologist Dr.Richard Thorndike (Brooks) is just taking over, the movie follows a murderous conspiracy that Thorndike eventually uncovers and becomes the target of over the course of the film.

Cloris Leachman plays the villainess, Nurse Diesel, who pulls the strings of her fellow conspirators with a stiff countenance and iron will... especially Harvey Korman's Dr.Montague who is under her S&M sexual spell. It's a familiar role for Korman as he plays it similarly in Blazing Saddles and History of the World, just with varying degrees of perversity. I find that funny considering how he's also associated with the only mildly subversive Carol Burnett Show.

Madeline Kahn is here as well, playing the Hitchcock damsel in distress, her father being held against his will at the Institute while Diesel and Montague charge outrageous fees from his estate. Eventually she stumbles into Thorndike's arms and the two proceed to hatch a plan of action to save her paterfamilias and manage to fall in love, cinema style (without much effort).

Though the premise of High Anxiety is silly and its implementation is slow and clunky, nevertheless there are dozens of really good bits in the film.

I particularly love Harvey Korman's routine where he acts like a werewolf behind Brooks' back to drive a patient, who used to have nightmares that the monsters were coming to get him, stark raving mad in order to justify his institutionalization.

There's also a really funny "old jewish couple" routine with Brooks and Kahn as they try and sneak past airport security. Sure, it stretches credulity something fierce, but it's still fun in that sort of standup act fashion that Brooks is known for.

The sendups to classic Hitchcock films, like the shower scene in Psycho, The Birds recreation in Golden Gate Park, and the Vertigo climax (set in the Institution's tower instead of an old Spanish Mission's belfry) are all relatively faithful without being too heavy handed. I especially liked the shower scene... despite it getting a sloppy setup, it delivers pretty well with the high pitched screams of the bellboy and the final joke about his tip.

While not a laughfest, per se, thanks to the pacing issues, High Anxiety is certainly enjoyable. I'd rank it higher than Dracula Dead and Loving It, The Twelve Chairs, and Silent Movie, but lower than most of the rest of Brooks' catalog.

It's definitely worth having in the Netflix queue and is good to revisit whenever you're in the mood for that classic Brooks' comedic fun.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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