High Anxiety Review

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After the previous head doctor is found dead, new recruit Doctor Richard H. Thorndyke arrives at the Psychoneuroitc Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous, to find himself framed for murder. In order to clear his good name he must first overcome is own ment


Mel Brooks aims his comedic crosshairs at the copious body and body of work of one Alfred Hitchcock, a subject of limited possibilities, and you can feel the keenness of old, the rowdy but dead-on spoofery of The Producers or Young Frankenstein, slipping away from him. Hitch is a tough subject, his films rest on the verge of hysteria already, often being outright funny, hence the jags and jibes of Brooks’ throw-it-all-out-there approach come across less astute — how do you parody material born on the borderline of satire? Much of this procession of garbled movie references cancels itself out.

And given the limited range of possible targets (the Western, for Blazing Saddles, was sprawling enough to offer multitudes of punchlines) the flabby script sinks into the predictable with failed riffs on the Psycho shower scene, Vertigo and North By Northwest. There are laughs, mainly due to the talent of the cast of Brooks regulars who once again traverse the absurd contours of his mania without cracking: Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman, following inspired work in Young Frankenstein, maintain that shrill perspicacity, offering a shrug to the audience. An inspired gag involving an embarrassed camera prowling into the wrong bedroom reminds you that when he clicks Brooks really clicks, but the hit rate is poor.

As with all great spoofers, you can feel the love the director has for Hitchcock, the thoroughness of his jokes vouches for that and the entire plot is loosely based on Spellbound. Perhaps, he was too devoted, the film lacks daring, it’s soft, Hitch would have sneered at such weakness.

Mel Brooks just manages to miss the mark with this Hitchcock spoof.