High Anxiety (1977)

PG | 105 mins | Comedy | 25 December 1977

Director:

Mel Brooks

Producer:

Mel Brooks

Cinematographer:

Paul Lohmann

Editor:

John C. Howard

Production Designer:

Peter Wooley

Production Company:

Crossbow Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

Before the opening credits, the following text appears onscreen: “This film is dedicated to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.”
       A 25 Apr 1977 DV news item announced that principal photography began that day in San Francisco, CA. Shooting was scheduled for nine days at various sites including the San Francisco International Airport, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, and a public telephone booth underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, which was used as a location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958, see entry). As noted in various contemporary sources including DV, writer-producer-director-actor Mel Brooks created High Anxiety as a parody of various Hitchcock films, including The 39 Steps (1935, see entry), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935 and 1956, see entries), The Lady Vanishes (1938, see entry), Rebecca (1940, see entry), Spellbound (1945, see entry), North By Northwest (1959, see entry), Psycho (1960, see entry) and The Birds (1963, see entry). Hitchcock was reportedly aware of the production and approved of the homage.
       On 13 May 1977, DV stated that the production had moved to Stage 14 at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. studios in Los Angeles, CA, where the San Francisco hotel lounge scene was being filmed. A 25 May 1977 DV news item announced that special visual effects creator Albert J. Whitlock had been cast in the film as “Arthur Brisbane,” the father of lead actress Madeline Kahn’s “Victoria Brisbane,” after a technical meeting with Brooks. Similarly, Brooks’s co-writers on the film, Ron Clark, Rudy ... More Less

Before the opening credits, the following text appears onscreen: “This film is dedicated to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.”
       A 25 Apr 1977 DV news item announced that principal photography began that day in San Francisco, CA. Shooting was scheduled for nine days at various sites including the San Francisco International Airport, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, and a public telephone booth underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, which was used as a location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958, see entry). As noted in various contemporary sources including DV, writer-producer-director-actor Mel Brooks created High Anxiety as a parody of various Hitchcock films, including The 39 Steps (1935, see entry), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935 and 1956, see entries), The Lady Vanishes (1938, see entry), Rebecca (1940, see entry), Spellbound (1945, see entry), North By Northwest (1959, see entry), Psycho (1960, see entry) and The Birds (1963, see entry). Hitchcock was reportedly aware of the production and approved of the homage.
       On 13 May 1977, DV stated that the production had moved to Stage 14 at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. studios in Los Angeles, CA, where the San Francisco hotel lounge scene was being filmed. A 25 May 1977 DV news item announced that special visual effects creator Albert J. Whitlock had been cast in the film as “Arthur Brisbane,” the father of lead actress Madeline Kahn’s “Victoria Brisbane,” after a technical meeting with Brooks. Similarly, Brooks’s co-writers on the film, Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca and Barry Levinson were announced as cast members in a 16 Jun 1977 HR news item. As noted in a 4 Sep 1977 LAT article, the “majority” of the picture’s cast and crew had worked with Brooks previously, including comedian Howard Morris, who had a thirty-year relationship with the director. However, High Anxiety marked the first time the two men had shared scenes in a feature film. According to LAT, each day of production began with a communal lox, bagel and cream cheese breakfast in the trailer of director of photography, Paul Lohmann.
       While a 19 Jul 1977 DV brief stated that principal photography was completed on 18 Jul 1977, a 25 Jul 1977 Box brief noted that the end date was 14 Jul 1977; however, both publications reported that the production was finished “four days ahead of schedule.” According to a 26 Dec 1977 Village Voice article, the Golden Gate Park scene in which Brooks is pelted with bird feces was filmed at the Rose Bowl stadium park in Pasadena, CA, on the last day of the shoot. Animal trainer Ray Burwick, who reportedly provided birds to Hitchcock for The Birds, was responsible for the pigeons in High Anxiety, but he did not receive onscreen credit.
       The 4 Sep 1977 LAT, which announced that the picture was “currently in postproduction” at Twentieth Century-Fox, noted that Brooks worked extensively with composer and conductor John Morris to score the picture, but Brooks is not credited onscreen in this capacity.
       The film was released to mixed reviews. While the 21 Dec 1977 Var called the comedic scenes “hit or miss,” the 19 Dec 1977 HR hailed the picture as Brooks’s “best film to date.” A fairly favorable 26 Dec 1977 NYT review noted that the self-satirizing nature of Hitchcock films made them difficult to parody. However, High Anxiety fared well at the box-office and broke house records at New York City’s Sutton Theatre, earning nearly $30,000 in its first two days of release, according to a 28 Dec 1977 HR news item. On 25 Oct 1978, Var cited a 24 Oct 1978 WSJ report that listed the film’s negative cost at $3.8 million and its domestic box-office gross at $18 million.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Jul 1977.
---
Box Office
2 Jan 1978.
---
Daily Variety
8 Apr 1977.
---
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1977.
---
Daily Variety
13 May 1977.
---
Daily Variety
25 May 1977.
---
Daily Variety
19 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1977
p. 3, 29.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Sep 1977
Calendar, p. 26, 29.
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1977
p. 1.
New York Times
26 Dec 1977
p. 26.
Variety
21 Dec 1977
p. 20.
Variety
25 Oct 1978.
---
Village Voice
26 Dec 1977
p. 35, 37-38.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
also starring
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mel Brooks Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still photog
Cam op
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Prop master
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Orch
Scoring mixer
SOUND
Prod mixer
Rerec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Spec eff
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to prod
Prod consultant
Casting
Continuity seqs by
Scr supv
Asst to Mr. Brooks
Prod accountant
Transportation
Animal trainer
SOURCES
SONGS
Title song, "High Anxiety," music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, sung by Mel Brooks.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 December 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 25 December 1977
Production Date:
25 April--14 or 18 July 1977 in San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by De Luxe®
Lenses/Prints
Filmed with Panavision Equipment®
Duration(in mins):
105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25032
SYNOPSIS

Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke gets off an airplane at Los Angeles International Airport and anxiously circumvents a leering old woman and a male flasher. Outside, Thorndyke is greeted by a young chauffeur named Brophy, who takes photographs of the doctor and drives him to his new job as director of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. On the way, Brophy mentions that Thorndyke’s predecessor at the asylum, Dr. Ashley, died mysteriously and Dr. Charles Montague, who was hoping to be appointed to the position, is displeased that Thorndyke was hired in his place. Upon arrival, Thorndyke meets Dr. Phillip Wentworth, whose confession of strange occurrences at the institution is interrupted by the stern greetings of Dr. Montague and Nurse Charlotte Diesel. As Thorndyke unpacks, he is reunited with his former mentor, Professor Lilloman. The elderly gentleman encourages Thorndyke to take in the view from his balcony, but the doctor experiences a panic attack and Lilloman diagnoses Thorndyke’s fear of heights as “high anxiety.” Warning that the condition can be fatal, Lilloman insists on treating his protégé with psychoanalysis. Later, at dinner, Thorndyke inquires about Dr. Ashley, but Nurse Diesel is evasive and instead reports that asylum patients have a low rate of recovery. The next day, Thorndyke meets with Montague and points out that several patients exhibit normal behaviors even though they remain hospitalized at a monthly rate of $12,000. To prove his point, Thorndyke interviews Zachary Cartwright, who claims to be cured, but Montague covertly sabotages the meeting and Cartwright regains his neurotic symptoms. Noticing a bright light flashing signals from a nearby hospital window, Thorndyke ... +


Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke gets off an airplane at Los Angeles International Airport and anxiously circumvents a leering old woman and a male flasher. Outside, Thorndyke is greeted by a young chauffeur named Brophy, who takes photographs of the doctor and drives him to his new job as director of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. On the way, Brophy mentions that Thorndyke’s predecessor at the asylum, Dr. Ashley, died mysteriously and Dr. Charles Montague, who was hoping to be appointed to the position, is displeased that Thorndyke was hired in his place. Upon arrival, Thorndyke meets Dr. Phillip Wentworth, whose confession of strange occurrences at the institution is interrupted by the stern greetings of Dr. Montague and Nurse Charlotte Diesel. As Thorndyke unpacks, he is reunited with his former mentor, Professor Lilloman. The elderly gentleman encourages Thorndyke to take in the view from his balcony, but the doctor experiences a panic attack and Lilloman diagnoses Thorndyke’s fear of heights as “high anxiety.” Warning that the condition can be fatal, Lilloman insists on treating his protégé with psychoanalysis. Later, at dinner, Thorndyke inquires about Dr. Ashley, but Nurse Diesel is evasive and instead reports that asylum patients have a low rate of recovery. The next day, Thorndyke meets with Montague and points out that several patients exhibit normal behaviors even though they remain hospitalized at a monthly rate of $12,000. To prove his point, Thorndyke interviews Zachary Cartwright, who claims to be cured, but Montague covertly sabotages the meeting and Cartwright regains his neurotic symptoms. Noticing a bright light flashing signals from a nearby hospital window, Thorndyke learns that industrialist Arthur Brisbane occupies the room and requests to meet him. Montague reluctantly shows the doctor a man who believes he is a Cocker Spaniel and introduces the patient as Brisbane. Meanwhile, Wentworth complains to Nurse Diesel about the institution’s unethical practices and vows to resign, but he is killed that night from burst ear drums after he was unable to turn off a rock ’n’ roll radio station in his car. The next day, Brophy chauffeurs Thorndyke to a hotel in San Francisco, California, for the American Psychiatric Convention. The doctor is terrified by the glass elevators and is nearly pushed over a seventeenth-floor railing by a porter. When Thorndyke aggravates the bellboy by demanding a newspaper, the young man returns to Thorndyke’s room while he is taking a shower and repeatedly jabs him with the paper. Sometime later, Arthur Brisbane’s daughter, Victoria, pays an unexpected visit to Thorndyke’s room and insists that her father is being held prisoner at the institution. Although Thorndyke assures Victoria that her father is legitimately insane, he suggests that they meet at the hotel bar after his keynote convention speech. Meanwhile, the self-professed killer of Ashley and Wentworth reports to his superiors on a lobby payphone and begs permission to murder Thorndyke and Victoria. At the bar, Thorndyke serenades Victoria with a song called “High Anxiety.” Victoria is impressed, but excuses herself to go to the ladies’ room; however, she drops her purse and reveals a photograph of her father, whom Thorndyke does not recognize as Brisbane. As the doctor suspects foul play at the institution, the killer overhears the conversation and reports back to Montague and Diesel, who plan to implicate Thorndyke in a murder. The killer disguises himself as the doctor and shoots one of Thorndyke’s admirers in the crowded hotel lobby as Brophy unsuspectingly photographs the incident. When the killer walks to the elevator, he crosses paths with Thorndyke and places the murder weapon in his hand. Thorndyke escapes from the police and hides in Golden Gate Park, where he calls Victoria on a payphone. As the doctor waits for her arrival, pigeons flock to a nearby jungle gym and pelt him with feces as he runs away. After having his suit cleaned, Thorndyke is reunited with Victoria, who shows him a newspaper headline with Brophy’s incriminating photograph. Asserting his innocence, Thorndyke notices that the glass elevator in which he was standing at the time of the murder is visible in the image. Back at the institution, Brophy enlarges the photograph to reveal Thorndyke in the elevator, thereby proving the doctor’s alibi, but Montague and Diesel confiscate the negative. The nurse realizes the photograph is still at large in newspaper headlines and instructs the killer to go after Thorndyke. At a payphone underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, Thorndyke calls Victoria, but he is strangled by the killer and Victoria mistakes him for a breathless pervert. When the killer is impaled on a shard of glass, Thorndyke resumes the call, and Victoria reports that Brophy successfully enlarged the photograph but he and the negative disappeared. Realizing that Montague and Diesel have seized the image, Thorndyke resolves to find Brisbane, who will reveal the truth about the institution. The couple disguises themselves as a “loud and annoying” elderly couple and pass through airport security undetected. Back at the asylum, Thorndyke learns that Brophy was committed after suffering a breakdown and finds the chauffeur in a cell. When Brophy reports that Brisbane was taken to the asylum’s ominous tower, Thorndyke braves his fear of heights and climbs the tower stairway with Lilloman, Victoria and Brophy in tow. As stairs collapse under his feet, Thorndyke clings to a platform and is attacked by high anxiety, but Lilloman intercedes, encouraging the doctor to remember his parents’ fighting when he was a baby. Thorndyke realizes that he is not afraid of heights after all and resumes his pursuit. At the top of the tower, Thorndyke is accosted by Diesel, who is dressed as a witch; the nurse falls off the tower but flies away on a broomstick. Montague appears from the shadows and promises to redeem himself, but he is bashed by the trap door, which opens to reunite Thorndyke and Brisbane with Victoria, Brophy and Lilloman. Sometime later, Thorndyke and Victoria celebrate the evening of their wedding at the Honeymoon City Hotel. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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