In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_american_sniper

American Sniper

American Sniper proves the dictum “never count an auteur out” by proving itself as Eastwood’s strongest directorial effort since 2009's underrated Invictus pretty much right…

Thumb_large_20ut2u5dmgl6szdu0adaq8u5zoc

The Interview

Opportunities at rich satire flatten out into Hangover dude-dope-doodoo jokes, where the premise is that there’s nothing funnier than watching over-privileged grown men act out…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

High Anxiety

  |  

One of the problems with Mel Brooks's "High Anxiety" is that it picks a tricky target: It's a spoof of the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but Hitchcock's films are often funny themselves. And satire works best when its target is self-important. It's easy for the National Lampoon to take on the Reader's Digest. But can you imagine a satire of the National Lampoon?

Almost all of Hitchcock's fifty-three or so films have their great moments of wit. And wit -- the ability to share a sense of subtle fun with an audience -- is not exactly Mel Brooks's strong point. He takes such key Hitchcock moments as the shower scene from "Psycho" (1960), the climbing scene from "Vertigo", and the shooting in "North by Northwest" and he clobbers them. It's not satire; it's overkill. Maybe it wasn't such a hot idea for Brooks to spoof Hitchcock in the first place. What he's done, though, is to go ahead and take the Hitchcock material, and almost bury his own comic talent in the attempt to fit things into his satirical formula. 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 does his own crazy, brilliant stuff.

Take, for example, a moment when dramatic music overwhelms the sound track while Brooks and his chauffeur are driving down a Los Angeles freeway. They look at each other, puzzled, and then we see the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra performing in a bus in the next lane. Sure, he's pulled the same gag before (Count Basie turning up in the desert in "Blazing Saddles"), but it still works.

Another Brooks specialty that works again this time is the casting of Cloris Leachman in variations of a neo-Nazi sadist. In "Young Frankenstein," she was Frau Blucher, whose very name made horses whinny with fright. Now she's Nurse Diesel, sinister presence at the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, where Brooks has been hired as the new director. She has a closet full of whips and chains, and walks around as if her nurse's uniform covered a cast-iron corset. It's funny ... but because it comes from Brooks and Leachman, not because it has much to do with Hitchcock.

Here's an example of why Hitchcock is so spoof-proof. At the end of "High Anxiety," a victim dangles from the top of a tower for what seems like minutes on end, hanging at times by a single leg. Brooks is having fun with the way Hitchcock plays with his scenes of climactic violence. Fine. But remember Hitchcock's wonderful 1972 movie "Frenzy"? There's that strangling in it that goes on and on and on, played very straight, until we finally realize that Hitchcock is slyly giving us our money's worth by playing with the scene beyond all the possibilities of realism.

Brooks has made a specialty of movie satires: "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," and "Silent Movie." But they took on well-chosen targets. It's one thing to kid the selfconscious seriousness of a Western or a horror movie. It's another to take on a director of such sophistication that half the audience won't even get the in-jokes the other half is laughing at.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Dear Angelina: Thoughts on "Cleopatra"

A letter to Angelina Jolie about the casting of her upcoming take on "Cleopatra."

Roger Moore's Best: "The Spy Who Loved Me"

An FFC comments on Roger Moore's best James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me."

The Ten Best TV Programs of 2014

The best television programs of 2014.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus