The movie is about a psychiatrist who is diagnosed with high anxiety. The doctor is framed by a pair of evil people who want to cover up their true plans. Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) arrives at an airport in Los Angelos. He is visibly nervous and can be seen anxiously peering out of the airplane window as it touches down. In the terminal he is immediately accosted by a man pretending to be an authority figure. Thorndyke is led into a room only to find that the man is a flasher interested in a romantic encounter. Thorndyke quickly leaves the room and navigates his way to the terminal exit. Suddenly a man starts taking a lot of pictures of Thorndyke. After the barrage of flashes ends the man introduces himself as Brophy (Ron Carey), Thorndyke's driver. Thorndyke talks to Brophy about his new position as the head psychiatrist at the Institute for the Very Very Nervous. On the way to the institute Brophy explains that Dr. Ashley, the previous head of the institute, died suddenly. Brophy implies that Ashley's untimely death was no accident. Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) apparently thought he was lined up for the job but it was a real shock to him when Thorndyke was hired instead. When the driver and the psychiatrist arrive at the institute they are met by Dr. Wentworth (Dick Van Patten), a pleasant hopeful man. Wentworth tells Thorndyke that strange things have been happening since Ashley died. Just then Dr. Montague, a well dressed flashy man, appears. He silences Wentworth by calling his name sharply. Montague is clearly upset that Dr. Thorndyke is now the head of the institute. The hierarchy is completely established when Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), a rather hairy and unpleasant crone of a woman, appears and reigns Dr. Montague with a word. Though Diesel is introduced as Montague's right hand man she is clearly the one in charge. She explains how the institute is run. Dinner is served at 8 pm, anyone who is tardy does not get a fruit cup. Before more words can be exchanged with Dr. Thorndyke Montague and Wentworth are called away by their respective betters. While Thorndyke is unpacking in his office Professor Lillolman (Howard Morris), also known as Professor Little Old Man, appears. It becomes evident that Lillolman is Thorndyke's old teacher. The pair catch up and talk about old times. Lillolman tells Throndyke about the big changes Dr. Ashley was going to make before his untimely demise. Lillolman, who is working part time at the institute, convinces Thorndyke to go out on his balcony to see the amazing view. Thorndyke is visibly uncomfortable with the suggestion and promptly freaks out while he is on the balcony. The professor takes his pupil back inside and explains that, though Thorndyke wishes to believe the opposite, the high anxiety will not go away until it is dealt with. It is clear that is is a recurring thing in Thordyke's life. If it is left unchecked it could cost Thorndyke his life. The professor sets an appointment for Thorndyke to start psycho analysis the next day. Later that night a camera pans in on the doctors and the nurse having dinner. Montague is not present. Thorndyke asks the group about Ashley's changes. Before Wentworth can answer Diesel tells Thorndyke that Ashley only wanted to change the drapes in the psychotics' game room. Thorndyke is surprised that this is the extent of Ashley's changes. Just then a bell is rung and Diesel has Montague's dessert taken away. This happens just before Montague arrives. He is upset but she does not care. One of the doctors gives a toast to the new institute head but Diesel does not participate. After dinner Thorndyke asks what the rate of patient recovery is at the institute. Diesel says that the rate of recovery is low. She states that there is a difference between the rate of recovery in a classroom setting and in the real world. During this conversation it becomes clear that Diesel is a bit psychotic herself. One of the doctors asks if Thorndyke will be attending an upcoming psychiatric convention in San Francisco. Thorndyke says yes. Later that night, it becomes even more evident that Thorndyke is neurotic when he brushes his teeth. As he finishes an enormous rock is thrown through his bathroom window. Brophy runs in and asks if the Thorndyke is okay. There was a letter attached to the rock. It says “Welcome, The violent ward.” Just then a scream is heard from Nurse Diesels room and the pair go to check it out. Upon inquiry Diesel says it was the television making that noise. Diesel and the two men wish each other good night. After the door is closed Montague is seen tied up in the closet. Nurse Diesel is playing the dominatrix and Montague is playing the slave. The next morning Montague comes to see Thorndyke. It is disturbing to Thorndyke that some seemingly rational patients are being held although they should have been released. Thorndyke talks about one patient in-particular. Montague explains that the patient in question is unpredictable. One day the patient is fine, the next day he isn't. Thorndyke suggests they both examine the patient together because he is not convinced. The patient, who was waiting outside the door, is brought into the room. Thorndyke questions the patient and the patient seems normal and sane. Just as the patient says he feels he could go back to the community safely Montague causes him to have pain in his neck. Montague uses a rubber band to shoot a paperclip at the patient's neck. This is one of the patient's complaints, mysterious neck pain. Montague shoots the patient with another paperclip as the pain begins to wane. The patient is also having nightmares about werewolves. While Thorndyke isn't watching Montague puts scary teeth in his mouth and acts like a werewolf. The patient is really frightened and starts screaming. Thorndyke is convinced the man isn't sane and has him sent to his room. An aforementioned flashing light starts flashing through the window again. It is coming from room 35.Montague says it is Arthur Brisbane (Albert Whitlock). Thorndyke wants to meet the man right after lunch even though Montague tries to convince Throndyke otherwise. Montague arranges the meeting with Nurse Diesel. Montague using code in the conversation he has with Diesel. Afterward Thorndyke is in a session with Lillolman. Thorndyke has another anxiety attack while under hypnosis. Lillolman tells him to fight the anxiety. In a trance-like state a fight between Thorndyke and Lillolman starts. As the fight is heating up Montague comes in the room. Montague starts playing referee in the fight. Lillolman explains to Montague what is going on after the “first round”. Montague thinks that Thorndyke's illness is hilarious. Montague promises not to tell anyone about the high anxiety. However when Montague leaves the room he can be heard saying, “every one, guess who has high anxiety.” Lillolman brings Thorndyke out of hypnosis and tells him that there wont be any sessions for a while. After lunch, Montague leads Thorndyke to the violent ward where Brisbane is being held. Brisbane is found sleeping in a big basket wearing footed pajamas with mittens sewn on them. Brisbane evidently thinks he is a cocker spaniel. After peeing on Montague's leg and humping Thorndyke's leg Brisbane is put on a leash. Thorndyke is surprised that Brisbane would have been able to contact him by using a mirror to get his attention through his office window.
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The next scene is of Diesel and Wentworth talking. She tells him he is just as much a part of “it” as the rest of them. He says he can't take it anymore. She warns him that he needs to keep his voice down because the window is open. She looks out of the open window and sees Brophy shinning his car. Just then she has a change of heart and tells Wentworth that he is free to go. He says he won't tell anyone and Diesel seems certain that he wont. That night Wentworth is driving down the road when he turns the stereo on. The music is so loud and annoying that Wentworth had to turn off the road. He tries to turn the music off but the buttons fall off. He tries to get out of the car but the handles also fall off. Wentworth is seen going limp in his car. The next morning Montague and Thorndyke are talking about Wentworth's death. Thorndyke finds death by busted ear drum odd. Montague corrects him and says that Wentworth technically died of a hemorrhage. Thorndyke says that he cannot go to the convention in San Francisco at a time like this. Montague and Diesel convince Thorndyke to go. Montague slips up and says that Wentworth was murdered. When Thorndyke pulls away from the institute Montague and Diesel set a date for that night. At the hotel Thorndyke seems mesmerized by the elevators. When Brophy and Thorndyke check in it is revealed that even though Thorndyke asked for a room on a lower floor someone called in and requested one on the 17th floor. Nothing can be done to change the arrangements. Thorndyke requests a newspaper from a very rude bellboy. Throndyke tells Brophy that he wants to see if there was any mention of Wentworth's death in the paper. On the way up to the room Thorndyke is tense. He does not like heights at all. He carefully makes his way from the elevator to the room but on the way a housekeeper accidentally bumps Thorndyle with a cart and almost sends him over a safety rail to his death. When the bellboy asks him if he needs anything else Thorndyke asks for the paper which the bellboy forgot. Thorndyke called down to have the desk clerk to tell the bellboy to remember the paper. This upsets the bellboy even more. While Thorndyke takes a shower the bellboy comes into the bathroom and attacks him with the paper. The shower scene is a parody of the shower scene from Psycho. After Thronedyke is dressed a woman, Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), pushes her way into Thorndyke's room. She makes him close the blinds and they talk about her father, Arthur. Her father suffered a nervous breakdown and entered the Institute for the Very Very Nervous for a rest but ever since he was committed has been a prisoner there. Victoria is reassured that Thorndyke is a competent psychiatrist and he says that Arthur is, in fact, deeply disturbed. She tells him that is “they” find out she is talking to him they would hurt her father. Just then Brophy knocks and tells Thorndyke that he is late for his keynote speech. Thorndyke offers to meet Victoria later and she agrees. They cautiously leave the room not knowing that they are being watched by Braces (Rudy De Luca). As Thorndyke is giving a speech Braces makes a call. He is trying to convince the person he is talking to to let him kill Victoria and Thorndyke. The person on the other line tells him not to kill the pair yet. Braces agrees. The scene goes back to Thorndyke as he is giving Q&A. The scene is hilarious because a doctor arrived late with his children just as Thorndyke was answering questions about penis envy. Thorndyke tries to clean up his answers by using silly euphemisms for the human anatomy so as not to offend the children or their father.
After the convention Victoria and Thorndyke are talking in a lounge. He is reassuring her that her father is in good hands at the institute and that she will be able to see her father soon. Victoria is happy and relieved. Just then Thorndyke is convinced by the piano player to sing a song. Thorndyke takes a bit of coaxing but he ends up singing High Anxiety. His leaves an impression on Victoria. When Victoria excuses herself to go to the bathroom her purse falls open. A picture of her with her father falls out. When questioned about the picture she says that the man in the picture is her daddy, Arthur Brisbane. Thorndyke says that that is not the same man he met by that name at the institution. The are unaware that Braces is listening in on the conversation. The next scene is of Montague and Diesel talking. Montague is concerned because the Brisbane they showed Thorndyke wasn't the real Brisbane. Montague wants to have Thorndyke killed but Diesel says they don't need another murder on their hands. Another mysterious death would alert the police. Instead of murdering him Montague and Diesel plot to frame Thorndyke for a murder. This will prevent Thorndyke from going to the police. Back at the hotel Brophy is checking him and the doctor out early. When Thorndyke appears he is accosted by one of the men from the convention. Thorndyke takes out a gun and shoots the man in cold blood in a lobby full of witnesses. Thorndyke turns and leaves. Soon it is revealed that the shooter wasn't really Thorndyke. The real Thorndyke meets the fake Thorndyke in a hall in front of an elevator. The fake gives the original the gun and pulls his mask off stunning the real Thorndyke. Braces gives Thorndyke the gun and disappears in to the elevator. Thorndyke escapes through the lobby being recognized by everyone.
Thorndyke ends up in a park. He makes a call on a pay phone and he gives the person his location. While he is waiting for the other person he is repeatedly pooped on and chased by pigeons. He is later see going to a dry cleaner where he gets his suit cleaned. Soon after he meets Victoria in the park. She is frazzled and doesn't know what to do. He tells her that the truth is the only way to clear his name. She shows him a picture of him in the paper. It is revealed that Brophy took the picture as his doppelganger was shooting the innocent man. Thorndyke notices himself in the elevator as the fake Thorndyke was shooting the man. The picture of the real him is so tiny it is almost unrecognizable. Thorndyke says that Brophy has the negative and convinces Victoria to contact Brophy. She is to instruct Brophy to have the negative enlarged. They can't be see together so they both go back to Victoria's hotel room. Meanwhile, Brophy enlarges the photo until he doctors face is large enough to be recognized. Just as he finishes his work Montague, Norton, and Diesel show up and confiscate the negative. Norton is ordered to take Brophy to a different wing. Alone together the dastardly pair decide to call Braces and have Thorndyke killed. This makes Braces happy. Thorndyke calls Victoria but before he can talk to her Braces starts choking him. Victoria listens to the struggle. Thorndyke somehow gets the upper hand and kills Braces. During the conversation it is revealed that Brophy was probably detained and the evil doers probably know what is going on. The only solution is to go to the institute and picture. Thorndyke tells Victoria to go to the Salvation Army and grab some things though we are not told what those things are. Thorndyke and Victoria are disguised as an old couple at the airport. Thorndyke tells Victoria to be loud and annoying so that they will be ignored. The plan works and they make it to the institute. They meet up with Professor Lillolman. They tell Lillolman that they are searching for Brpohy. Lillolman tells them that Brophy was taken to the North Wing. He apparently had a mental break down. The trio go to find Brophy. When they find him it is revealed that Arthur Brisbane was taken to the tower. Montague and Diesel are going to throw him off the tower and make it look like suicide. When they all arrive in the tower Thorndyke is unable to go up the stairs because of his high anxiety. Brophy and the Lillolman attempt to go but neither of them is successful. Finally Thorndyke gets the courage to go and he inches his way up the stairs. He falls through a rotten stair and almost falls to his death. As he is hanging Lillolman takes Thorndyke back in his mind and helps him realize it isn't heights he is afraid of but it is his parents. This somehow give him the strength to pull himseld out of the hole and run up the stairs. Just as Norton is getting ready to throw Mr. Brisbane over the edge Thorndyke saves the day. Just then Diesel flies at the pair dressed as a witch and she goes over the edge of the sill. She falls into the ocean below. Montague promises that he will be on Thorndykes side. The movie ends with a camera panning out of Victoria and Richard Thorndyke's wedding suite. It pans right through the wall scaring the couple.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like this movie because it breaks the fourth wall so often. There are several scenes where the camera pans too far in or breaks a window.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene happens when the doctors and nurse are all having dinner together for the first time. Before everyone starts eating the camera zooms in too far and breaks the glass of the dinning hall window. The group simply looks at it and goes back to their food.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Thorndyke eventually gets over his fear of height. It is hilarious that it doesn't really have anything to do with heights.