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Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Dick Van Patten, Barry Levinson
Writing Credits:
Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy De Luca, Barry Levinson

An homage to, and parody of, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, this Mel Brooks comedy is about Richard H. Thorndyke (Brooks), a famous psychiatrist with a fear of heights who finds himself knee-deep in murder and deception as chief of the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.

Box Office:
$3.400 million.
Domestic Gross
$31.063 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Stereo
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $99.99
Release Date: 4/4/2006

Available as Part of the “Mel Brooks Collection”

• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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High Anxiety (Mel Brooks Collection) (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 12, 2006)

Who says I don’t take care of my friends? My pal Kevin absolutely adores Mel Brooks’ 1977 flick High Anxiety, so when I heard it’d come out on DVD, that meant I needed to nab it so I could bequeath the disc to him when I finished. Even though this meant I’d need to screen seven other Brooks films since Anxiety comes only as part of the eight-disc “Mel Brooks Collection”, the tug of friendship meant I’d take one for my buddy!

Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out why Kevin so loves Anxiety, but I try to keep an open mind. This was my fourth or fifth time through the film and I didn’t like it much on those earlier occasions, but who knows? Maybe the fifth or sixth time will be the charm.

Anxiety offers Brooks’ parody of Hitchcock. Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) takes over as the head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous when Dr. Ashley dies. His chauffeur/sidekick Brophy (Ron Clark) feels this came as a result of foul play. An outsider from Harvard, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) resents Thorndyke’s presence since he craved the job.

The plot thickens when we learn how Dr. Ashley planned big changes around the Institute, another factor that contributes to the sense that he died at someone else’s hands. It seems likely that those same parties will come after Thorndyke. How will they do it? They probably will exploit his “high anxiety” – Thorndyke’s paralyzing fear of heights. The movie follows all the various twists and turns related to Thorndyke’s disorder and attempts to send him over the edge – literally.

At his best, Brooks provided clever spoofs of other filmmakers. This is why Young Frankenstein worked; he took specifics of prior films and twisted them in amusing ways. If he goes too broad, he loses his touch. That was the problem with the moronic Spaceballs and the idiotic History of the World Part I.

In Anxiety, though, Brooks manages to stay on the subtle side of the street. Not that the film doesn’t include some broad laughs, but Brooks keeps things more subdued than usual. For instance, when Thorndyke first comes to the Institute, we see a “Keep In” sign on the front gate. That acts as a play on the usual “Keep Out” warnings. In his lesser films, Brooks would zoom in to accentuate this joke, but here he maintains restraint

The movie works better due to that factor, as the almost throwaway nature of many gags makes them more effective. I like movies that don’t stress jokes. They reward us for attention and don’t beat us over the head with their comedy. As I mentioned, Anxiety includes plenty of over the top moments – how else to view a scene in which a man who believes he’s a dog humps Thorndyke’s leg and then pees on Montague? - but it also makes sure that it features more subtle bits.

I probably like Anxiety more now than in the past since I’m much better acquainted with the work of Hitchcock. I think I last saw Anxiety back in the mid-Nineties, and I’ve seen many Hitchcock films during the intervening period. Brooks doesn’t usually directly spoof specific Hitchcock flicks; some clear references to Psycho, Vertigo and a few others appear, but Brooks mostly keeps things less obvious. That’s fine with me, as the movie draws much of its humor from the general reflection of a Hitchcockian tone. Anxiety absorbs the Hitchcock feel but doesn’t just re-enact specific sequences.

That works for me, as I don’t think much of movies that simply recreate existing references with little cleverness. Even when Anxiety goes for the obvious – such as the shower scene from Psycho - it adds enough distinctiveness to ensure it doesn’t suffer from the moronic mimicry of something like Scary Movie. There’s a wit at hand that I appreciate, and there’s also a great adherence to the source. For instance, when Anxiety spoofs The Birds, the film uses similar sound design and omits music.

Much of the charm comes from the cinematography. Brooks ensures that shots strongly evoke the Hitchcock style. That means elements such as the one in which a character states he feels caught in a web while shadows create that sort of look around him. The movie doesn’t over-stress these shots; instead, it lets us enjoy them on our own.

Another positive also relates to Brooks’ subdued tone. In crummier films like History of the World or Spaceballs, Brooks doesn’t trust himself enough to let the jokes sag. Those films pour on the gags without pause, and that just accentuates the crappy quality of the bits.

In Anxiety, Brooks allows himself to take breaks. This allows the comedic segments to prosper. They don’t battle against themselves for prominence, and they come from a more natural place. The humor stems from the story and characters, not the reverse.

A significant difference between Anxiety and Brooks’ lesser works stems from his obvious affection for the source material. That warmth permeated Young Frankenstein as well but was absent from trash like Spaceballs. It’s obvious he did the latter just to make a buck, while he shows a greater affinity for Hitchcock here. That helps allow the movie to prosper, as it doesn’t simply capitalize on a popular trend.

The high quality of the film’s cast certainly helps. Ron Carey and Howard Morris offer the most memorable work in their supporting roles, and a young Barry Levinson pops up in a terrific turn as a high-strung bellboy. Korman provides a favorite moment with his foiled attempt to eat a fruit cup; his anticipatory joy and subsequent disappointment are brilliant to see. Cloris Leachman’s cold, stern Nurse Diesel also offers many fun moments.

Maybe I’ll have to apologize to my friend Kevin. For years, I gave him a hard time about his adoration of High Anxiety, as I thought the film was lackluster at best. However, I now can appreciate the film’s charms and see it as a consistently amusing and clever piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

High Anxiety appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though fans will be happy to see Anxiety in its original aspect ratio, they’ll be less impressed with this bland transfer.

Sharpness varied. I thought most of the movie demonstrated adequate definition, though the flick never quite became truly crisp or detailed. It rarely looked fuzzy, but it also failed to display a very tight presence. Although the film lacked jagged edges or shimmering, it did suffer from moderate edge enhancement. Grain was a bit of a distraction, but other flaws weren’t much of a problem. I saw a few specks and not much else to distract me.

Colors stayed on the bland side of the street. Granted, this wasn’t a movie that boasted a wide palette, but I still thought the tones came across as too flat and brown. Even shots with the potential to blossom looked somewhat muddy and indistinct. Blacks were fairly well-defined, though, and shadows looked reasonably concise, though a few shots suffered from excessive opacity. This was a decent transfer but it never became particularly strong.

While the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of High Anxiety didn’t dazzle me with its soundscape, it provided better than expected audio quality. The score offered particularly solid material. The music consistently seemed distinctive and vibrant, with surprisingly full and deep low-end. Effects played a small role, but they came across as reasonably concise and accurate. Speech was fairly natural and lacked problems with intelligibility, though some edginess occasionally interfered.

As noted, the soundfield wasn’t particularly impressive. Music showed moderate stereo imaging, though the score often essentially reverted to mono. Effects also stayed pretty much in the center, though they occasionally spread mildly to the sides. There wasn’t much to the track, but the quality of the audio was enough to make this a “B-” mix, largely because the music sounded so good.

Not too many extras round out the package. We find nothing more than a collection of trailers. The DVD includes ads for High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be Or Not to Be and Young Frankenstein.

One of Mel Brooks’ best films, High Anxiety provides a solid spoof of Hitchcock. The movie plays off the master director’s tendencies and hits the mark quite frequently. The DVD offers mediocre picture and no substantial extras, but audio quality is fairly impressive. This is a decent DVD for a strong movie.

Note that this version comes as part of the eight-movie “Mel Brooks Collection”. It also includes The Twelve Chairs, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, History of the World Part I, Blazing Saddles, To Be or Not to Be, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. The “Mel Brooks Collection” packages all eight movies together with a list price of $99.98.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.625 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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