[Originally published in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]
The consistency of Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie have served to make us forget how embarrassingly unfunny Mel Brooks can be when heâ€™s off his feed. Itâ€™s a long, hard road to the first genuinely good laugh in High Anxiety; and, though the film picks up after that, it never gets consistently good. In this heavily promoted Hitchcock sendup, Brooks is on safe ground only when specifically kidding Hitchcockâ€™s camera styleâ€”like the low-angle camera that watches two characters through a glass coffee table, but keeps losing them amid a jungle of cups, saucers, and trays; or the overhead shot that ends with everyone suddenly looking straight up at the camera; or the shot-for-shot parody of Psychoâ€™s shower scene. There are a half-dozen or so delicious moments like these in the film; but when Brooks relies on dialogue for laughs he goes juvenile on us, choking off most of the laughs. In attempting to lampoon Hitchcockâ€™s plotting and thematic content, all Brooks is able to do is reduce the elegant, dry wit of the Master of Suspense to pasty, cream-pie level. Typical of the filmâ€™s ubiquitous failures is the climactic scene, a fusion of the tower scene from Vertigo with the return of John Ballantineâ€™s memory in Spellbound: the way the scene is shotâ€”with an impossibly blond Madeline Kahn and an impeccably dressed Mel Brooks caught on the ancient stairsâ€”is hilarious; but the dialogue is so absurdly puerile that the comedy is diluted to water-thinness. At its unfunniest, High Anxiety is embarrassingly, even boringly limp; at its funniest, itâ€™s never as funny as Hitchcockâ€™s own work. â€œA Mister MacGuffin called,â€ indeed!
Â© 1978 Robert C. Cumbow
Direction: Mel Brooks. Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, Barry Levinson. Cinematography: Paul Lohmann. Production design: Peter Wooley. Editing: John C. Howard. Special visual effects: Albert J. Whitlock. Music: John Morris; title song: Mel Brooks. Production: Brooks.
The players: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Howard Morris, Dick Van Patten, Ron Carey, Charlie Callas.