Looking Back At “Blanche Fury” and “High Anxiety”

blanche-fury

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….

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).

highanxiety

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 (Madeline Kahn), must prove his innocence.

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).

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • John

    …and only a few years after High Anxiety’s premiere I stayed at the hotel, now the Hyatt Regency San Francisco (not the Grand Hyatt) with a basic nightly rate that requires a small personal loan.

  • Constantine Santas

    Granger is generally an underestimated actor. Blanche Fury is his best role; once in Hollywood, he was magnificent in Prisoner of Zenda, and Scaramouche, which contains the best fencing match in movie history. I still expect a blue-ray of that movie…. Zing….