"Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup!" Trying to explain why you like one Mel Brooks film and have no particular feeling for another is like trying to explain why one guy slipping on a banana peel is funny and another guy doing the same is a medical emergency. All I know is that I think that line, especially as stated by Nurse Diesel, is uproarious and that High Anxiety is one of my favorite Mel Brooks films. Some say it's a take-off on Hitchcock, or even a satire. Far from it, in my view. I think it's an affectionate, good-natured hug from Brooks for a director he respects. So, on one level, we can sit back and enjoy the Hitchcockian references, some of which are very clever. On another level, we still can enjoy the famous Brooksian low comedy that sends one gag after another almost as fast as we can blink. When the two come together...when the birds splatter a fleeing Dr. Thorndyke, for instance...it's a match made in heaven. Besides, anyone who can turn a man being strangled in a telephone booth into a coy phone sex scene has my vote.
Sure, the movie is erratic, but that's Brooks. What makes so many of the gags work, I think, is that Brooks, as the dignified, mystified Dr. Thorndyke, is an observer. Brooks in this movie reacts to things far more often than he instigates. And if you enjoy the Hitchcock films that flash by -- Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Spellbound, Under Capricorn, Notorious, The Birds and such -- there is a built-in level of affectionate amusement. High Anxiety, for all it's imperfections, is funny. This is no criticism of many of Brooks' other films, but I also think High Anxiety has a lot of charm, more than any of his except Young Frankenstein and The Producers (the first version).
Brooks does an outstanding job playing Thorndyke, the new head of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. He may be the center of the story, but it's a quiet center; he surrounds himself with memorable grotesques he's not afraid to let steal their own scenes. Among others, there's Harvey Korman ("Less bondage, more discipline!"), Madeline Kahn playing one of Hitchcock's blonde ice queens, Cloris Leachman playing a remarkably ugly head nurse and fitted out with what seems to be an armor-plated bra, and an assortment of low comics doing fine bits, including Charlie Callas as a patient who thinks he's a cocker spaniel. Don't let him get close to your leg. The one moment when Brooks grabs the film for himself is when Dr. Thorndyke is persuaded in a hotel bar to take the mike and sing. Brooks does such a great combination of cheery lounge lizard and a self-consciously swinging Sinatra he almost stops the movie in its tracks.
If the DVD transfer is anything like the Region 1 release, it should have been much better. There's no excuse for a releatively recent movie not to have a crisp and true-color DVD release.