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HIGH ANXIETY (1977) ** ½

Mel Brooks’ spoof of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers isn’t one of his best, but it has enough laughs to please indiscriminate fans of both Brooks and Hitchcock. Brooks stars as the new director at the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous who suffers from “High Anxiety”, which causes him to freak out in stressful situations. Many of his new associates don’t agree with his appointment and they make it very clear that he isn’t welcome. Brooks tries to help a beautiful blonde (Madeline Kahn) try to free her father whose been wrongly imprisoned in the institute all the while trying to clear his name of murder.

The set-up is something that Hitchcock would approve of. Brooks has reverence for his subject (Brooks dedicates the film to Hitch during the opening credits sequence), but that doesn’t exactly make it funny. The scenes that specifically reference Hitchcock films are hit and miss. The Psycho shower sequence (featuring co-screenwriter and future director Barry Levinson) is (no pun intended) a wash, but the scene that spoofs The Birds is pretty funny.

The movie works much better whenever it’s doing its own thing. There’s a scene where Harvey Korman examines a patient and frightens him with dime store vampire teeth that’s hysterical. The running gag of Brooks’ valet (Ron Carey) being unable to lift heavy objects sets old after a while though. The bit where Brooks and Kahn pretend to be old people to sneak past security runs on too long and isn’t very funny either.

Still, it’s worth a look just to see Brooks’ usual cast doing their thing. Cloris Leachman is very funny as Nurse Diesel who doubles as an S & M mistress. Harvey Korman is great as usual as Brooks’ rival and Madeline Kahn is always fun to watch (especially in the scene where she mistakes Brooks getting strangled for an obscene caller).

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