High Anxiety

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The story begins at Los Angeles airport, where Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) has several odd encounters (such as a homosexual man disguised as a police officer). He leaves for the institute with his driver, Brophy (Ron Carey). Upon his arrival, he is greeted by the staff, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman), Dr. Philip Wentworth (Dick Van Patten) and Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Cloris Leachman). When he goes to his room, a large rock is thrown through the window, with a message of welcome from the Violent Ward.

Thorndyke then hears strange noises coming from Nurse Diesel’s room and when he and Brophy go to investigate, Diesel claims it was the TV. However, it was a passionate session of BDSM with Dr. Montague. The next morning, Thorndyke is alerted by a light shining through his window. It is coming from the violent ward. Dr. Montague takes Thorndyke to the light’s source, the room of patient Arthur Brisbane, who, after suffering a nervous breakdown, thinks he is a Cocker Spaniel.

Later, Nurse Diesel is talking with Dr. Wentworth. He wants to leave, but she won’t let him. However, after some arguing, she says she’ll let him go. When Wentworth is driving home that night, his radio blasts rock music loudly and will not shut off. He is trapped in his car, his ears hemorrhage, and he dies from a stroke, aggravated by the loud volume.

After this, Thorndyke goes to the grand hotel – the broad-atriumed, vertigo-inducing Hyatt Regency San Francisco, where much to his dismay he is relegated to a room on the top floor, due to a reservation change by a “Mr. MacGuffin”. He pesters the bellboy (Barry Levinson) with repeated requests for a newspaper, wanting to look in the obituaries for information concerning Dr. Wentworth’s demise. He then takes a shower, during which the bellboy comes and in a frenzy mimics stabbing Thorndyke with the paper while screaming “Here’s your paper! Happy now?! Happy?” The paper’s ink runs down the drain, a reference to Psycho.

After his shower, a woman bursts through the door; she is Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), the daughter of Arthur Brisbane (Albert Whitlock). She wants help regarding her father. He agrees to the terms, but then finds out Nurse Diesel’s plot. The patient is not the real Arthur Brisbane.

To stop Thorndyke, Diesel and Montague hire a killer, “Braces” (Rudy De Luca), to impersonate Thorndyke and shoot a man in the lobby. Now with the police after him, he must prove his innocence. After he is briefly attacked by pigeons, he contacts Brophy, and realizes Brophy took a picture of the shooting. The real Thorndyke was in the elevator at the time, so he should be in the picture.

He orders Brophy to enlarge the picture. When he goes to call, “Braces” tries to strangle him; however, Thorndyke is able to kill him. Brophy enlarges the photo, and Thorndyke is indeed visible in the picture. Nurse Diesel and Montague capture Brophy and take him to the North Wing. They also take the real Arthur Brisbane to a tower to kill him.

As Thorndyke runs up the tower to save him and Brisbane, Nurse Diesel leaps out from the shadows in a witch’s costume with a broom, and falls out the tower window. Thinking she really is a witch, she tries to act like she’s flying, ending in her death at the rocks below.

Dr. Montague appears from the shadows and gives up before being hit in the head by the trap door by Brophy. Victoria is reunited with her father and gets married to Thorndyke who go off on Honeymoon.


With the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, it is a wonder that no one has really made an attempt to make a full on spoof of them. Sure, we get plenty of cartoon and comic fodder of scenes here and there, but nothing that is a full on riff of his masterpieces. That is until the release of High Anxiety, a parody film by the master of parody, Mel Brooks.

What is this about?

Dr. Richard Thorndyke arrives as new administrator of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous to discover some suspicious goings-on. When he’s framed for murder, Dr. Thorndyke must confront his own psychiatric condition, “high anxiety,” in order to clear his name. An homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock; contains many parodies of famous Hitchcock scenes from The Birds, Psycho, and Vertigo.

What did I like?

The usual suspects. Mel Brooks seems to have a set group of actors whom he can call upon for any of his films. Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Dick van Patten, and to a certain extent, Cloris Leachman. A recurring cast like that always helps because they know he director, his style, etc., making for a string of great performances.

Reference. Along with parodying Psycho, Vertigo, and The Birds, this film makes reference to other works of Hitchcock’s. For instance, late in the film, Brooks’ asks his female accomplice to meet him in the “North by Northwest” corner of the park, an obvious reference to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

Respect. When one makes a parody of something, you always wonder what the creator of the original is going to think. I’m sure that was going through Brooks’ head when he learned that Hitchcock was going to see this. As it turns out, though, he loved it and sent a word of congratulation to Brooks, as well as some fancy wine. Of course, Hitchcock did work with him on the screenplay, so there may have been a little bit of a pat on the back there, as well. HA!

What didn’t I like?

Blonde ambition. Madeline Kahn is normally the gorgeous, sexpot in Brooks’ films. No change in her role in this flick, except for the fact that she went blonde. Normally, I could care less about something as fickle as the color of someone’s hair, but the blonde was such a distraction for me that I have to mention it. Kahn looks best when she is sporting red locks. Who had the bright idea to turn her blonde for this? It really did no good, honestly.

Awkward. Ever have one of those moments when you need to talk about something adult-oriented, but some kids suddenly show up? Brooks writes this in at a convention in which his character happened to speaking. Not long after one of the other psychiatrists asks him about penis envy, another comes in with his two daughters. While it is a bit of a funny scene, I didn’t really see how it connected with everything.

Make an appearance. In nearly all of his film’s, Alfred Hitchcock made some sort of appearance, much like Stan Lee does with the Marvel films today. However, he doesn’t appear in this. Being that this isn’t his film, that isn’t such a big surprise, but wouldn’t it have been nice to see Hitch somewhere in this? I’m just saying.

For someone like me, who is a fan of Hitchcock’s films, specifically the ones that are targeted, High Anxiety is a rare treat. It isn’t very often that a parody treats the material with such love and respect as this film does. Brooks even goes so far as to set a scene in the same, if not VERY similar, setting  as a previous film, I forgot which one. The bridge and phone booth make for the perfect backdrop. Do I recommend this film? Yes, very highly! Check it out!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars


One Response to “High Anxiety”

  1. I’m a Hitch fanboy, and I adore “High Anxiety”. Favorite gag? The “birds attack”. Really funny stuff.

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