Brendan decided to follow up Vertigo with a film that is largely a parody of Vertigo – Mel Brooks‘ 1977 classic High Anxiety.

But before the film, I queued up (at more or less random – other than this one could be found online) one of the Oscar-nominated shorts for this year: Garden Party, directed by Florian Babikian and Vincent Bayoux.  Let’s see if we can embed it here…

Looks like that’s a “no”.  But hopefully the link continues to work.  It’s a frightening short – not so much due to the content (creepingly sinister, but pretty telegraphed) – but rather because the computer animation looks incredibly realistic (until the very end, thankfully).  Honestly, some of the frogs in this film are so good you could believe that they were real.  It’s only a matter of time before we get our first can’t-tell-it’s-not-real fake video framing somebody for a crime or the like.  We may be leaving the Seeing Is Believing Era.

Our feature presentation has its own seeing-is-not-believing moment, but we’ll get to that.  High Anxiety, as I said, is Mel Brooks’ parody of and homage to Alfred Hitchcock, and particularly Vertigo.

Keeping The Patients In – At Any Price!

Dr. Richard Thorndyke, a famous psychologist, somewhat surprisingly is given the job of Director at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very Very Nervous.

So this is Vertigo, but put a plane behind him and it’s North By Northwest, right?

Thorndyke coincidentally suffers from High Anxiety – a disorder that looks very nearly identical to vertigo.  Spoiler: this will come back in the end.

I know there’s a fruit cup in there somewhere…

Things are a bit troubled from the start, seeing as there are a lot of shenanigans going on at the Institute.  Some of them involve non-professional behavior.

An American Werewolf In Rehab

Other shenanigans involve professional malfeasance.  You see, it appears that the staff are going to great lengths to falsely continue to institutionalize patients who are healthy (but rich).  And they don’t really want Dr. Thorndyke to mess up their good thing.

The Pfabulous Pfarody with the Pfunny Name

So, after “eliminating” both their former director and another employee who is breaking rank, the staff conspire against him while he is on a conference trip to San Francisco.

Tiger Shark Chic

While in S.F., Thorndyke coincidentally meets Victoria Brisbane, whose rich father is being held at the institute.  Thorndyke had previously been taken to visit Mr. Brisbane, and found him to be a complete loon who believed himself to be a dog.  He reports this to an unbelieving Victoria, but when he accidentally sees a photo of her father, he realizes that the man he was shown was not Brisbane and he begins to put together a picture of what is really going on.

It’s Garden Party!  It’s happening!

However, rather than have their eager assassin simply kill Thorndyke, the malfeasants from the Institute instead have him frame Thorndyke for a random murder by having the assassin wear an impressively realistic mask.

He’s reading the Sporting Green!

With the help of Victoria and his shutterbug chauffeur, Thorndyke is able to show that he was framed, and then he rushes back to the Institute to save Mr. Brisbane from being thrown out of a convenient tower for some reason while overcoming his High Anxiety, and the film ends happily.  Of course.  It’s a comedy.  The End.

I think in some ways you have to temper your expectations of a film from someone like Brooks.  Don’t expect to have a great plot.  Parts of High Anxiety don’t make a lot of sense – but really, that’s not the point in the first place.  The point is, in this case, to riff on the thriller genre (and Hitchcock in particular), and to throw in humor and sight gags on the side.

Mrs. Potts with an uncredited cameo

Perhaps my favorite sight gag here was the “glass table” shot, where the camera is filming a scene from underneath a glass table and continually having to reposition itself as the characters lay down their tea-time dishes in the way of the shot.  Just sublime.

And of course the Hitchcock references come hot and heavy.  Vertigo, North By Northwest, Rear Window, Psycho, and The Birds all get the treatment to one degree or another, and of course there may well have been references I either missed or have forgotten.  On top of that, there was a “cameo” of a guy that kinda looks like Hitchcock, which was a really nice touch.  Of course, one of the benefits of all the movie night screenings all these years is that they have allowed me to recognize that the final shot of High Anxiety – where a camera pans (backwards, not forwards) out of Thorndyke and Victoria’s honeymoon suite while breaking through the wall is actually a parody of the penultimate shot of Antonioni’s classic The Passenger.  That’s totally what that is, and it’s hilarious.

Sometimes you worry that a Mel Brooks film is not going to age well.  With High Anxiety, have no fear.  There’s something about a parody of timeless movies that makes it timeless itself.  And hilarious.  I want to say it’s one of Brooks’ better movies, but then I look at his résumé…and almost all of them belong on that list of “his better movies”.  Not a bad compliment.