High Anxiety Reviews
Sadly, I never got into Mel Brooks movies. And I always wished I had. When I was an adolescent teenager, I recall rolling around in laughter while watching "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" - but as I've matured (hopefully), it's not as funny. I think that may be one of the reasons I've stayed away from other Mel Brooks movies. But, I slowly started to watch his movies in my early 20s, and I've found that "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" are VERY funny - even if his jokes have been recycled hundreds of times.
Anyway. I've decided to revisit the movies of Mel Brooks, and see how I feel about them now. Up first: "High Anxiety" (the Alfred Hitchcock spoof, or homage). There's no rhyme or reason to starting here (in retrospect, I probably should have started with "The Producers", but nevertheless, here is where I begin).
I recently read Roger Ebert's review from 1978 - and what's funny to me is that while I agree that the movie is (slightly) lackluster, I find when Brooks is spoofing Hitchcock, the movie is funniest. When he's not spoofing Hitchcock, the movie sputters. Ebert says the opposite and points to the scene when Brooks and his chauffeur are driving down the freeway and "dramatic music" begins playing. As Brooks and his chauffeur look at each other wondering where the music is coming from, a bus drives by with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra supplying the music. Funny, right? But here's the thing - I've seen this gag countless times now. Maybe it was "fresher" in 1978, but in 2013, it's absolutely stale. And so the scene isn't that funny to me. (Though I can appreciate the gag for what it is.)
Ebert then points to the shower scene when Brooks is attacked with a newspaper a la "Psycho". He writes: "The best moments in 'High Anxiety' come not when Brooks is being assaulted in the shower with a rolled-up newspaper, but when Brooks leaves Hitchcock altogether..." And I disagree. I think the shower scene works - even though you KNOW he's going to get attacked by the bell-boy with the newspaper. It's a very calculated scene, and Brooks' reactions and screams are what carries everything. Ditto the scene when Brooks is attacked by the droppings from all the pigeons in the park. It's his reactions that make you laugh.
The scenes that don't work are the ones that try so hard to be funny - mostly the scenes with Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel. Why not turn Nurse Diesel into a spoof of Mrs. Danvers from "Rebecca"? Instead, she feels out of place as a spoof of Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".
"High Anxiety" isn't classic Mel Brooks (in fact, it starts the decline of Brooks movies), but it's certainly funnier than most movies of today. If the Master of Suspense approved of the movie, I think we can approve of it as well. If anything, it makes you feel smart when you catch the Hitchcock jokes.