I wore a black fedora from my dear mom's vast hat wardrobe, a black tuxedo-style blazer, and black slacks—that is, until I innocently strode up to my pal and classmate Kypro (“Kyp” for short), nonchalantly removed my slacks, and asked him to keep an eye on them during my number. Considering that Kyp looked rather like a young 1980s version of Victor Mature, the look on his face was especially priceless, bless him! I went up to the front of the classroom, looking as much like Judy Garland in Summer Stock as I could. (Luckily, I had a cute figure then, if I do say so myself!) I opened my mouth to lip-synch—and out came the boisterous voice of Mel Brooks singing “High Anxiety” from the soundtrack album! If I do say so myself, I brought down the house, getting an A+, and it was a heck of a lot of fun, as well as a confidence boost for a shy kid like me (don’t let my gregarious writing style fool you!).
|Off to Sr. Francesca's Theater class, 1985
I should explain to those who might be new to Mel Brooks’ work (so many young movie fans to inspire!) that aside from Brooks’ solo screenplays for his 1968 Oscar-winner The Producers, and 1970’s The Twelve Chairs, his best scripts have often been collaborations between himself and other writers, as they did with Your Show of Shows. Of course, there’s wit in Hitchcock’s thrillers, too. The difference is that Hitchcock’s humor was sleek and sly, while Brooks and his co-writers Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, and future Oscar-winner Barry Levinson are boisterously cheeky; as Brooks himself might say, “they kid because they love.”
|Flying the friendly skies? Richard begs to differ!
|Herrmann-like traveling music from John Morris!
|Madeline Kahn as Victoria Brisbane - so cute!
|Montague & Diesel unwind after a day of evildoing
Meanwhile, poor Richard is fighting a vertigo-like malady, the titular High Anxiety. “If left unchecked, it can cost you your life!” declares his old friend and mentor Professor Lillolman (Howard Morris)—whereupon Lillolman and Richard are startled by an ominous musical sting, courtesy of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra’s touring bus! Soon Richard becomes the man who knew too much as he falls in love with Brisbane’s beautiful, soignee daughter Victoria (Madeline Kahn), or as Richard and others say, “You’re the cocker’s daughter?” Before you can say “Que sera sera,” Richard’s making like Frank Sinatra crooning the title song for Vicki in the hotel’s Art Deco-ish piano bar (for me, that’s HA’s highlight), and getting framed by evil P-NIftV,VN personnel Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and her love slave Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) for a murder he didn’t commit, running hither and yon to clear himself through all kinds of picturesque locations while the Hitchcock gags (and even a few that aren’t Hitchcock-centric but are still funny anyway) fly thick and fast and fabulous—and so much more!
|Don't you feel less neurotic already?
|Dick Van Patten is caught in a web of evil, beyond the shadow of a doubt!
|Could Vicki Brisbane be the future Mrs. Dr. Victoria Harpo Thorndyke?
|It's not heights little Richard was afraid of, it's parents—or Pablum!
- Professor Lillolman, who reminds me of Spellbound Oscar-nominee Michael Chekhov, is mistakenly addressed as “Professor Little-Old-Man.”
- As Victoria, Kahn’s a knockout in her Vertigo gray suit and picture hat and Notorious-style black gown (not to mention her Louis Vuitton jumpsuit and matching car!). Vicki’s ditzy moments crack me up, too, like her hotel room scene while Richard’s in a phone booth trying not to be strangled by Diesel and Montague’s henchman “Braces” (co-writer Rudy DeLuca). First she tries to pretend she’s not turned on by what she thinks is an obscene phone call, then she tosses away her Vuitton teddy bear and backpedals like mad when she realizes it’s Richard: “I knew it was you! I laughed. Did you laugh?”
- As Dr. Montague, Harvey Korman dresses like Charles Gray in the 1968 Hammer thriller/period piece The Devil Rides Out. As Nurse Diesel, Cloris Leachman looks like a scarily hilarious cross between Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.! They play uproariously outrageous bondage-and-discipline games when they’re not keeping rich patients prisoner. Dominatrix Nurse Diesel: “I know you better than you know yourself. You live for bondage and discipline!” Submissive Dr. Montague: “Too much bondage! Not enough discipline!”
- Like any self-respecting Hitchcock-style hero, Richard has what The New York Times reviewer described as “an elegant flaw,” namely his High Anxiety. The Times went on to say, “He has the cowardly man’s restless glance as he keeps track of the terrain and of all the ways to make a quick exit.” My kind of guy! I’m also tickled that Richard’s name is clearly a nice tip of the hat to debonair but beleaguered hero Roger O. Thornhill from North by Northwest. Those who’ve been following TotED for a while may recall that North by Northwest is not only my favorite Hitchcock film, it’s my absolute favorite film of all time, period.
Omigod, we’re losing altitude! No, the ground is gaining altitude! “Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the No Smoking sign. Please extinguish all smoking materials. Make sure your seat belts are fastened and your seats in the full upright position for our arrival in Los Angeles.” Omigod! Too fast, too fast! We’re dropping like a stone….Oh, Lord, why does the landing gear coming down always sound like the landing gear breaking off?And here’s Richard insisting on meeting Arthur Brisbane, and Montague reluctantly phoning Nurse Diesel to set up a meet-and-greet:
“Hello? Nurse Diesel? Dr. Montague here. Dr. Thorndyke would like to visit Arthur Brisbane this afternoon…Good…Oo-yay oh-knay ut-way oo-tay oo-day. Et it gay?”Richard sees the ultra-modern (for the late 1970s) Hyatt Regency Hotel for the first time:
He hung up with a little flourish of his wrist, as if Pig Latin were the most natural language for a licensed psychiatrist to use in speaking with a psychiatric nurse.
Convention headquarters in San Francisco was a large modernistic hotel almost twenty stories high, built around a central glass-roofed courtyard. By some fiendish miracle of advanced architecture, the hotel was constructed so that each floor facing the courtyard juts out into thin air a little farther than the floor just below it. As you stand in the lobby, therefore, you are treated to the impression that the whole building is about to cave in on you. If you leave the lobby and venture upward, on the other hand, you are treated to the impression that gravity will soon bring you and the whole impudent pile of overhangs crashing ignominiously to the ground. The net impression you are treated to is that you should get the hell out of there before the building makes you dead, and that impression becomes a certainty when you see the fishbowl elevators whizzing up and down at the junctions of the walls like to many glass-enclosed coffins. It was doing my High Anxiety no good.A beautiful stranger (who turns out to be Vicki Brisbane) bursts into Richard’s hotel room:
“Get away from me,” she snapped. “Don’t move. Be quiet. They’ll hear you. Close the drapes.”
It occurred to me that I was dealing with a beautiful victim of paranoia—a beautiful armed victim—so I went to do as she’d asked.
“Get down!” she said vehemently. “They’ll see you.”
Paranoid. Definitely. I crouched down and closed the drapes.
“Close the other one,” she commanded.
Paranoid and pushy. I obediently started across the room.
“Keep down,” she ordered.
She was so obviously scared and so much more obviously pretty that I really didn’t mind being bossed around by her. Her gun impressed me, too…Suddenly there was the sound of the doorknob turning…. “Quick,” she said. “Make believe you know me.” And with that, she pulled me to her and kissed me as no paranoid had ever kissed me before.
Our trapped hero Braces himself for mortal combat!
Vicki jumped to the wrong conclusion. “Listen, fella. I don’t go for this kind of thing.”
I managed to get one hand between my throat and the wire, but almost immediately the strangling pressure of the cord trapped it, and I could feel my wrist bone being forced into my Adam’s apple. I gasped and huffed like a man with terminal asthma, which in a way was what I was.
“Who is this?” Victoria asked. “Listen, you’re crazy if you think I’m going to stay on this phone and listen to heavy breathing.”
It wasn’t working. I was making a lot of noise, but no air was coming in. Red spots started dancing in front of my eyes.
“Listen,” Victoria went on, “maybe other girls get turned on with these kinky phone calls, but I couldn’t care less. How did you get my unlisted phone number? Did someone I know give it to you?...Listen, mister, I’m not going to listen to any more of this. I’ve had just about enough!...What are you wearing?”
It was horrible. I was being strangled to death while listening to the girl I loved mistake me for a pervert. It made me wild with terror and despair. It made me want to wail and sob. The only sound I could squeeze out, however, was a squeaky “Jeeeeee…Jeeeeee….”
“Jeans?” said Victoria. “You’re wearing jeans? I bet they’re tight.”
And if you haven't yet read all of Nate Hood's excellent High Anxiety blog post, here's a link: