Progress Report provides ongoing impressions of serials or sets I view them.
The film actually uses a location from Hitchock's Vertigo, except it's now an Institute for the Very Very Nervous, where our protagonist, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is taking over. Even on his way there, there's something clearly strange going on at the institute and when he gets there, he finds the psychiatrists strangely under the sway of the controlling Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman). Murder and foul play start to show up as people inquire into the charges of the institute and Dr. Thorndyke eventually finds himself having to face... his high anxiety!
The plot is rather simple and cobbles together bits and pieces of Vertigo, North By Northwest and other Hitchcock films to form a surprisingly coherent whole. Unfortunately, the story itself is less than compelling--definitely more on the level of Silent Movie over Brooks' best. The suspense itself is largely robbed, leaving the story as a series of by-the-numbers plot points. Strangely enough, this is the most serious seeming of all of Brooks' spoof films because of Brooks' fidelity to Hitchcock's style, which locks the film into a Hitchcockian mood. The comedy itself is even mostly low key and so, when Brooks provides his more distinctive gags (which he's been using since Blazing Saddles), it sort of stands out and feels mismatched against the more homage-like tone of the rest of the film. Which sort of leaves the whole thing not nearly as funny as it might have been.
But, even here, Brooks still has a strong eye for capturing the look and traits of his sources. There's so much Hitchcock in his staging, framing, camera use and music and foley and that's even on top of deliberate references to Hitchcock films. This is great in announcing itself as a parody of Hitchcock films, but unfortunately, most of the gags just use this as a playground, rather than drawing comedy from Hitchcock's films themselves (one such moment includes taking one of Hitchcock's slow zooms through a window and turning into camera movement, which results in the camera crew breaking the window). The acting is actually pretty good and manages to elicit what few laughs are to be had, although Brooks himself is uneven (although he does a great Sinatra-esque number in the middle of the film).
However, the film is limited because Brooks' type of comedy comes less from imitation and more from riffing his own gags in the scenario. Sometimes, he does dig deep to actually find some material to parody and when he does, it usually works exceptionally, but High Anxiety is more homage than parody. To make an homage of Hitchcockian thrillers, but take out the suspense really deflates this film, but the Hitchcockian atmosphere actually also mutes Brooks' gag-centric comedy at the same time and lacking any strong parody-based comedic material, the whole thing just results in a merely mildly entertaining, although seemingly reverential film. Not a must watch. 6/10.