14 January 2006 | Quinoa1984
"Get the newspaper, get the newspaper!"
Mel Brooks, if nothing else, is spectacular at collecting up the clichés, the stereotypes, the conventions, the seriousness, and at the same time the joy and entertainment that comes in the different works he has made fun of over his career (countless westerns with Blazing Saddles, historical epics with History of the World part 1, the sci-fi boom of Star Wars/Trek with Spaceballs, silent films with Silent Movie). Here is no exception, as he tackles squarely the unmistakable catalog of Sir Alfred Hitchcock. All of the hits are here, and transfused into a story that is kooky, predictable, but all the while giving some very good belly laughs. Even if it doesn't always strike where the iron is unexpectedly hot like with Saddles or the Producers, it still makes its mark with uncanny ability in making the film watchable while being often unrelenting (whether everything works gag-wise or not) with the spoofs.
Mel Brooks stars as Dr. Richard Thorndyke, a psychiatrist with his own problem- a fear of heights (Vertigo, anyone). In the midst of this a murder takes place (it's an usual one, by the way, involving a scene in a car that's unsettling while hilarious). The major set-pieces take place at a hotel Dr. Thorndyke stays at for a conference, where the plot seems to thicken even tighter. At times one wonders if the film maybe should take itself a little more seriously to work, like with Young Frankenstein. But by also not letting up with the silliness and over-the-top gags, there are at least a few that stand-out in the overall Brooks oeuvre. One or two are just plain dumb funny, like a wolf-man imitation ala Harvey Korman to a patient afraid of werewolves during a session with Brooks. More often than not in the film, the gags are very expected, getting right to the point as it were.
The chief examples lie in two scenes that work great, and one that works OK. The first involves a particular bellhop not too fond of getting order for a newspaper (played by a young Barry Levinson), which leads to an all too obvious but shamelessly funny Psycho spoof. Or, of course, the scene in the park with the birds of THE Birds, which remains a truly disgusting scene in some respects (even if the laughs wear down towards the end, its a brilliantly constructed set-up). One that doesn't quite go up to snuff is a near-murder scene by a telephone booth. Madeline Kahn's character is on the other end, and the scene is maybe a little too familiar, even as a Hitchcock parody. Towards the end its funny, but only after the fact. It's not totally that the timing is off, maybe just something else that's hard to say. It might be funnier to others.
Still, its the glee thats put forth in the performances, and the little running gags (i.e. "I'll get it, I'll get it...I don't get it"), to make it a notable entry in Brooks' body of work. If you've seen Hitchcock's films and not Brooks' I'd still recommend it at least once, if only out of curiosity, as just from a film buff stand-point its kind of fascinating how a satirist like Brooks takes on Hitchcock's style, which often had its own morbid sense of humor (Psycho, in some ways, is more of a pitch-black comedy than a horror film). For me, the merging worked well, if not for a great overall comedy. And, at the least, there's another catchy title song by Brooks himself, leading to a sweet nightclub scene.