Thursday, March 19, 2009

Overlooked: High Anxiety

How often does Mel Brooks' 1977 Hitchcock parody High Anxiety get its due?

(I'll have that for you in a moment.)

... once in a blue moon.

True, it's no Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, Brooks' 1-2 comic punch from 1974 that helped place that year among the greatest in film history. And no, it's not quite on The Producers' level either, but that one's in a different world.

But Brooks' send-up of The Master of Suspense's classic thrillers is right up there, maybe a half-step below his best, firmly entrenched in his Second Tier, alongside other spoofs like Spaceballs, Silent Movie (another overlooked one) and Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

One thing clearly going against High Anxiety is modern-day relevance. In pop culture, Westerns (which Blazing Saddles parodies), horror flicks (Young Frankenstein), period adventure movies (Men in Tights) and sci-fi sagas (Spaceballs) all have stayed alive in one way or another.

Meanwhile, Hitchcock movies (Psycho excepted) fall outside the purview of most of today's non-cinephiles. Sure, the old cheesy horror movies at the core of Young Frankenstein's jabs aren't around anymore either, but one typically learns through osmosis the story of Frankenstein and his monster and all that. But North by Northwest? Vertigo? These are AFI classics, not IMDB hits.

But High Anxiety is worth it no matter how much Hitchcock you've seen. Like any Brooks vehicle, it's filled with memorable lines*, hilarious gags and ridiculous characters played by Brooks regulars (the writer/director himself, Cloris Leachman, the late great Madeline Kahn, the also late and also great Harvey Korman, Dick Van Patten, et al).

*"You're the cocker's daughter?"

Really, the whole thing's worth it just to see eventual Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (below) as a high-strung bellboy. Sadly, I found no clip online. So you'll just have to take The Film Official's official word for it, and Netflix this one.

"That kid gets no tip."

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