High Anxiety (1977)

High Anxiety (1977)

“Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.”

Renowned but highly strung psychiatrist Dr. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) becomes the new director of a mental institute, where a militant nurse (Cloris Leachman) and her colleague (Harvey Korman) are involved in nefarious dealings related to a wealthy patient whose grown daughter (Madeline Kahn) is concerned about her father’s well-being.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cloris Leachman Films
  • Madeline Kahn Films
  • Mel Brooks Films
  • Mental Illness
  • Satires and Spoofs

Mel Brooks’ sixth feature film was this explicit homage to Hitchcockian thrillers, which satirizes many of his most beloved titles (including Vertigo, The Birds, Spellbound, and Psycho), in addition to giving a quick nod to Vincente Minnelli’s The Cobweb (1955) (through reference to the institute’s drapes!), and poking fun at One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched through the over-the-top character of Nurse Diesel (Leachman).

Indeed, there are so many cinematic references and in-jokes packed into the storyline that film fanatics will likely find themselves in a near constant state of recognition (“Oh! Look what he’s spoofing now!”) — which makes it all the more unfortunate that the storyline itself doesn’t do justice to the series of endless referential gags. Brooks gives away the film’s villains from the get-go, so what we’re mostly left waiting for (in addition to more gags/references, as well as a completely gratuitous and self-indulgent rendition of the title song by Brooks himself) is Dr. Thorndyke’s belated recognition that his own life is in danger. It’s difficult to fault Brooks for his clear attempt here to have fun with the genre, and it’s especially enjoyable to see Leachman given the opportunity to literally dominate the proceedings; however, the film as a whole doesn’t work well enough to designate as must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel
  • Some fun spoofs of Hitchcock’s best-known films

Must See?
No, but film fanatics will probably want to check it out at least once. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “High Anxiety (1977)

  1. Not a must; not even really a maybe.

    This is more or less a complete waste of time. Just about everything about it is forced and very little of it is funny. Of the actors of note: Kahn is completely wasted; Korman is pleasant in a subdued, one-note sort of way; Leachman comes off ‘best’ trying to milk whatever she can out of a fun concept that has no pay-off.

    Worse, the whole thing is filmed with very little imagination and often looks cheap.

    I’d say skip it.

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