High Anxiety (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 94 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 English, 5.1 French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, others
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Review Date:May 12, 2010
Mel Brooks’ three supreme movie parodies (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie) preceded High Anxiety, the film that pretty much launched his descent from the giddy highs of inspired spoofery and into a period of rather indulgent crass comedies with homages to various movie themes or genres that weren’t as well thought out or as well put together as his previous efforts. High Anxiety has some admittedly funny moments, but the sweet satire is an afterthought, pitifully integrated into the fabric of the film like raisins in a pudding. They’re easy enough to see, but unlike Young Frankenstein in particular, the basic film has very little to do with the films of Alfred Hitchcock and very much to do with how silly and frivolous Mel Brooks can be.
Newly appointed head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous in Los Angeles, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) has suspicions that all is not well there after meeting head nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and acting head Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman). But he has no time to worry about it since he finds himself framed for murder on a business trip to San Francisco. Only with the help of mysterious blonde Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn) whose father is being kept hidden secretly away at the Institute can Thorndyke hope to clear himself and discover the answers to the mysterious behaviors of all concerned back in Los Angeles.
Though ostensibly a tribute to the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock, High Anxiety really isn’t the same well thought out love letter to Sir Alfred that Young Frankenstein was to James Whale and his three Frankenstein movies, but rather a very silly grab bag of Hitchcockian references thrown into an outlandish story with a mixture of Spellbound and Vertigo as the tent poles to prop up its ridiculousness. Yes, you’ll see farcical nods to various set pieces from Psycho, The Birds, and North by Northwest, but much of the film’s comedy doesn’t rely at all on foreknowledge of Hitchcock’s oeuvre but rather on absurd focuses with more modern situations (at the time) such as flashing, bondage and discipline, Frank Sinatra’s vocal stylings, and speaking in euphemisms in order to discuss sexual situations with minors present, none of which have anything to do with Alfred Hitchcock. There is some visual wit with the tracking camera that crashes through sets and a clever moment when the camera shooting from below through a glass table top keeps getting thwarted by the actors placing various silver and china that obscure what the camera is trying to capture. But that kind of sophistication is rare; most of the film resorts to hammy overacting and finding oddball characters for Brooks’ pals and fellow writers to play.
Director Brooks is also saddled with a mediocre leading man, Mel Brooks, whose lack of comic finesse compromises some of the potentially humorous situations. Madeline Kahn has a couple of effective reactive moments (the best is where she thinks a murder she’s hearing over the telephone is actually a masher calling to titillate her with his heavy breathing), and Cloris Leachman overacts like fun as a very butch nurse running the show her own way. Harvey Korman does his standard prissy, submissive shtick, and Ron Carey as the perpetually befuddled and ineffectual Brophy quickly wears out his welcome. From their old Your Show of Show days, Howard Morris assists Brooks by effecting a German accent and playing the mentor of Brooks’ renowned psychiatrist.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie has never looked particularly good on home video, and that continues with this new Blu-ray release. Contrast is rather milky for the first half of the film, and the resultant image is rather lackluster and not especially detailed. Reds come through too overpoweringly (sometimes blooming), but other colors don’t make nearly that kind of impression. Some later shots once the movie transfers the action to San Francisco look more solid and dimensional, but this is not a reference transfer. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track directs most of the sound activity to the front speakers leaving the rears silent for long periods of time. John Morris’ faux-dramatic score gets a little spread throughout the soundfield, but the processing to turn the original stereo soundtrack into a surround experience has been minimal. A lossy stereo track is available for those who prefer the original sound design, but I didn’t listen to it for the purposes of this review.
“Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense” is a 29-minute making-of documentary with surviving members of the cast and crew discussing the fun they had with the production. Brooks recalls his own meetings with Hitchcock and the Master’s reaction to the film. Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone also comments on her admiration for the movie. The featurette is presented in 1080p.
“Am I Very Nervous Test” is an exclusive Blu-ray interactive activity which presents picture-in-picture psychological questions which the viewer answers during the movie while a running score is kept depending on one’s answers and a gauge measures one’s anxiety levels.
The viewer can opt to engage the “Don’t Get Anxious Trivia Track” which switches on pop-up information windows about the making of the film and the Hitchcock references present during the screening.
John Morris’ fun score can be enjoyed on the isolated score track.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
A gallery of Mel Brooks movie trailers includes History of the World Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
3/5 (not an average)
Not a great film, High Anxiety carries a lot of good will with it since it celebrates (in its own crude way) the masterful achievements of one of cinema’s legendary great directors, Alfred Hitchcock. The Blu-ray looks and sounds about as well as the film is ever going to look or sound, and the bonus features are entertaining enough to experience at least once.