Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Blanche Fury" and "High Anxiety"

Blanche Fury (1948).  Poor Blanche. In a short span, she improves her social station by progressing from servant to governess to the wife of wealthy landowner Laurence Fury. Unfortunately, on her wedding night, she realizes that she's passionately in love with the estate's bitter steward, Philip (Stewart Granger). He believes Clare Hall rightfully belongs to him as the only son of its former owner. The problem is that Philip is illegitimate--well, he believes his parents were married in Italy, but a five-year search has provided no proof. Philip hates Laurence Fury, hates the fact that the Furies claim ownership of Clare Hall, and hates that his lover, Blanche, is married to Laurence. It would be so convenient if something unpleasant happened to Laurence and his father....

Valerie Hobson.
This British-made Victorian drama principally serves as a showcase for the under-appreciated Valerie Hobson and a young Stewart Granger, who acting career was on the upswing. Hobson is particularly effective as the female lead, constantly finding depths in her character that keep the story interesting. If not for her name, I never would have known it was the same actress from Bride of Frankenstein. Granger has an easier time as Philip, but there's no doubting his charisma and he displays a sharp edge that he would refine later in his best performances (e.g., Scaramouche).

While never as gripping as it should be, Blanche Fury holds interest with just enough unusual touches. Examples include the weird story about the Fury coat of arms (which features an ape) and the fact that Philip's family took the name Fury when they moved into Clare Hall (their actual name was Fuller). I watched a muted print, but have read where the film's color photography was rather impressive. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who photographed the exteriors, would later win Oscars for Cabaret (1972) and Tess (1979).

A little Vertigo?
High Anxiety (1977).  Typically, Mel Brooks runs hot and cold for me--which makes this Hitchcock parody an anomaly. It's often amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny. I like it, but I'm always left with the feeling that it should have been so much better.

Mel stars as Dr. Richard Thorndyke, the new administrator at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. It's quickly evident that Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) are harboring secrets. But before Thorndyke can uncover what's happening at the institute, he's off to San Francisco to attend a psychiatric convention. He is soon framed for a hotel murder and, with the help of Victoria Brisbane (Madeleine Kahn), must prove his innocence.

The killer impersonates Thorndyke.
The best parts of High Anxiety are trying to identify which Hitchcock classic is being parodied. Some are obvious (the playground scene from The Birds, the mental hospital from Spellbound), while others are more subtle (e.g., a long tracking shot that recalls Rope). Surprisingly, one of the best scenes has nothing to do with Hitch, but consists of Mel doing a Sinatra tribute as he sings the title song in the hotel's lounge.

The hotel bellboy, who has one of the funniest scenes, was played by Barry Levinson. He co-wrote the script with Brooks, Ron Clark, and Rudy De Luca. Five years later, Levinson would write and direct the critically acclaimed Diner, the first of several big screen successes (e.g., Rain Man, The Natural).


  1. Ironic that Brooks used Vertigo as his plot, being one of AH's least remembered at the time. Kahn's father is played by the guy who did Vertigo's matte paintings. He also includes a line referencing Vincente Minnelli's asylum drama, The Cobweb.

    There's actually a Vertigo theme song by Billy Eckstein, which sounds just like Brooks' Anxiety number in its Vegas approach.

  2. Two movies I haven't seen. I think I'll check out Mel's Hitch homage in the new year. I'm surprised that I haven't seen Blanche Fury because when I was a teenager local television showed tons of Brit stuff on the late show.

  3. I keep meaning to see High Anxiety, but haven't yet made the time. It sounds like it would be a lot of fun to watch with other movie buffs, to see who could be the 1st one to guess which film is being parodied.

    As for Blanche Fury, I will keep an eye out for it, despite my aversion to Stewart Granger. Valerie Hobson alone sound worth the price of admission. ;)

  4. I haven't seen Blanche Fury, but the actors and cinematography sound inviting in your review Rick. I agree that with Mel Brooks it can be hit or miss on the jokes or the lines, or the scenes. The parody can be overdone, but this one had its good moments.

  5. I have seen both "Blanche Fury" and "High Anxiety" and liked both modestly well. The former for its brooding quality, the latter for the Hitchcock nods. But I have to admit what I liked best was you pairing them together in a post, Rick.