Sunday, October 25, 2009

"High Anxiety"- better remembered

I watched the Mel Brooks’ movie “High Anxiety” the other day. I remember enjoying Brooks’ films over the year and thought it would be a good laugh to watch this Hitchcock parody again. I learned that parody is best enjoyed the closer it is to the event being parodied. When too much time has elapsed the target of the parody becomes something of a dim memory. What was cutting edge becomes dull and blunted. Of course Hitchcock was a great director and many of his movies were inspired. His directorial bag of tricks was large and his stories seemed so fresh when they were, well, fresh. The best parts of “High Anxiety” are those that poke fun at that bag of tricks. There is a scene with the wonderful Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel and Harvey Korman as her B&D psychiatrist playmate. They are sitting at a glass topped table and Brooks, taking a page from Hitchcock, has the camera photographing the actors through the glass top. It is wonderful to watch the camera contend with coffee cups and plates being moved around by Leachman and Korman without regard to where the camera is. Leachman has a hilarious thin mustache and she talks with her mouth continually clenched. She embodies all the bad psychiatric nurses found in so many movies.  Korman acts with just a bit of the effete, making the two a great comedic couple. Madelaine Kahn is also a treat to watch. She has a way of using her mouth and hair to demonstrate movie-fake sensuality. A Kahn scene that works very well is when Brooks calls her from a phone booth while he is being strangled. She interprets it as a heavy breathing pervert call. She initially feigns disgust but gradually begins to ask questions, “ How did you, ummmm... get my room number? I am not going to listen to any more of this, I mean, I've had just about enough! What are you wearing? Jeans? you're wearing jeans? I bet they're tight.” She does this while throwing back her long blonde hair like some glamorous Hollywood leading lady of days past. There is also one funny scene where Brooks parodies the famous “Psycho” shower scene. However, Brooks does not have the comedic timing and rubber face that Gene Wilder had in the much funnier “Young Frankenstein.” Brooks’ Jewish schtick also seems tired today. But most of the movie is like silly filler that was probably quite funny in 1977 but not so much now.

“High Anxiety” makes reference also to Hitchcocks’s“The Birds,” “Vertigo,”, “Marnie”, “Suspicion” and others. It also sends up films of other directors including “Blow Up, “the Pink Panther,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

I suppose that when I watch the “Scary Movie” films 30-years from now, I will probably forget the movies they were parodying and wonder why I liked “Scary Movie 3” so much. So too is the fate of “High Anxiety” 30 years later.

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