Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

High Anxiety (1977)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

High Anxiety (1977)

In Mel Brooks' hilarious comedy - a satirical parody of famous moments and scenes from various Hitchcock films - and his fourth spoof film after Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), and Silent Movie (1976):

  • the lead starring role of Richard H. Thorndyke (Brooks himself) as a Hitchcock prototype (a wrongly-accused innocent man on the run) - a psychiatrist with acrophobia, and the newly-appointed head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous
  • the scene of Thorndyke's airport arrival in Los Angeles (LAX), when an overly aggressive, screaming woman (Pearl Shear) rushed at him, but she was only greeting her husband Harry, and Thorndyke's assessment of everything highlighted by strident orchestral music: "What a dramatic airport!"
  • Thorndyke's photography-obsessed chauffeur Brophy (Ron Carey) ("I love to take pictures. I'm very photogenic"), who during their drive on an LA freeway to the Psycho-Neurotic Institute, revealed the reason for the death of Thorndyke's predecessor - under mysterious circumstances: "I think Dr. Ashley was the victim of - foul play" - with a swelling of dramatic music on the soundtrack, accompanied by the anachronistic view of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra playing on a bus next to them (the gag revealed the difference between a non-diegetic scoring cue and a diegetic one - one heard by the characters)
  • the devious character at the Institute of Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and her pointy-breasted white uniform and manly mustache (she was introduced by staff Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) as "my right-hand man, woman"), who had strict rules: "Those who are tardy (to dinner) do not get fruit cup"
  • the Nurse doubled as a sadistic, Neo-Nazi dominatrix, with whom Montague later had a closet spanking session: (Montague: "I know you better than you know yourself. You live for bondage and discipline. Too much bondage, not enough discipline")
  • Thorndyke's own tooth-brushing tutorial delivered to his own mirror image as he brushed his teeth: ("Up and down. Up and down. Side, side, side, side, side. In and out. In and out. Side, side, side, side, side (repeated)")
  • the psychiatrist's explanation for Thorndyke's high anxiety over acrophobia - with a flashback to his infancy and his abusive parents, and his insight in an epiphany: "It's not height I'm afraid of. It's parents!"
  • the classic spoof scenes: an attack in a shower a la Psycho (stabbed by an angry bellhop (Barry Levinson) with a rolled-up newspaper ("Here's your paper! Happy now?! Happy?"), after which newspaper ink - not blood - ran down the drain, and Thorndyke's quip: "That boy gets no tip"), and a scatalogical scene involving a massive horde of pigeons on a park's jungle-jim that chased (and pooped) on Thorndyke
Two Hitchcock Spoof Scenes
Shower Stabbing
Pigeon Jungle-Jim Poop
  • Thorndyke's awkward speech to a psychiatric convention in San Francisco, when asked about his use of the term "Penis envy"; when two young children arrived and sat down in the audience, he had to modify his terms, using "pee-pee envy", "balloons" (for breasts), "number one or cocky-doody" (terms related to toilet training), and the "woo-woo" (for the "female erogenous zone" or womb): "As I was saying, in a world of predominantly male-oriented psychology, it was only natural to arrive at the term, pee - Pee, 'Peepee envy'"
  • the copy-catting of Hitchcock's filming style or camera angles - a through-the-door tracking shot into a dining room that crashed through the windowed doors, a low-angle shot looking up through a glass coffee table, but obstructed by a carafe, saucers, etc., an overhead shot in a padded cell (with all the actors suddenly looking up at the camera), and another backwards-moving traveling shot in the final honeymoon scene that literally broke through the wall
Three Copy-Cat Hitchcock Camera Angles or Film Styles
Tracking Shot Through Door
Low Angle Shot
Overhead Shot
  • the obscene phone call scene, when Thorndyke was placing a phone booth call to his love interest Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), a patient's wealthy daughter, and he was attacked from behind by assassin "Braces" (Rudy DeLuca) (a take-off on Bond's "Jaws"); with the cord wrapped around his throat to strangle him, all he could utter was "Ahhh," "Oooh," and "Uuhh" - after resisting a little, Victoria interpreted his words as kinky sex talk from an anonymous caller and responded: "How did you, uhm, get my room number...What are you wearing?...You're wearing jeans? I'll bet they're tight...Oh my God. You are an animal"; after he killed the attacker, he was able to speak to her, when she back-tracked: "I knew it was you all the time. I just went along with it"
  • the climactic Los Angeles tower scene (a replicated and parodied amalgam of Vertigo and Spellbound) with Thorndyke (phobic about heights and suffering from vertigo - or "high anxiety") and Victoria caught on a crumbling staircase before they were able to vanquish the evil-doers from the Institute who were extorting millions

Thorndyke's Airport Arrival with Screaming Woman

Symphony Orchestra on Passing Bus

Institute Nurse Charlotte Diesel (Cloris Leachman)

Montague's Closet Spanking Session

Thorndyke's Tooth-Brushing Tutorial

Flashback to Thorndyke's Babyhood with Abusive Parents

Psychiatric Convention Speech about "Pee-pee Envy"

Obscene Phone Call Sequence with Victoria Brisbane
(Madeline Kahn)

Concluding Tower Sequence


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z