It's time for 'The Naked Gun' to emerge from the shadow of 'Airplane!'
Hey, I'm Enrico Palazzo!
The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad! , adapted from the TV classic movie "Police Squad!" , was a successful film that spawned two sequels and captured the peak of actor Leslie Nielsen's comedic talents. From start to finish, this movie has interesting things going on in almost every moment. It's the same comedy as its cousin Airplane! , created by the same crazy team of David Zack, Jim Abraham, and Jerry Zack (also known as ZAZ), but arguably has a more cohesive storyline to connect its nonstop puns, Wordplay and visual gags. So why not put it on your lips when it comes to telling the story of the greatest comedy in Hollywood history?
ZAZ's Comedic Strengths Come from Its Dramatic Actors
Airplane! One reason ZAZ was so successful came from an unlikely source: Leslie Nielsen. The actor has had a long career in dramatic roles, rising to fame with films like 1956's Forbidden Planet, 1966's Plainsmen and 1972's disaster classic Poseidon, to name a few. He's looking to branch out into comedy, and ZAZ is looking for actors not known for comedy, which is a stroke of genius, featuring actors like Nelson, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges Fight type by playing type in ridiculous situations. It's perfect timing, and Nelson will be at the center of the film as Dr. Rumack, delivering his lines in a dramatic, deadpan fashion, like the iconic response to "Can't you really be serious?" : "I'm serious, and don't call me Shirley". Decided to apply airplane humor! To the TV series, they took their star Nelson and cast him as Lieutenant Frank Dreybin, the main character in the police procedural spoof police squad! It worked, maybe too good to be true. Six episodes were produced, but only four aired before being canceled for the simple reason that viewers had to "pay too much attention" to the show to see the jokes.
ZAZ Transformed 'Police Squad!' Into 'The Naked Gun'
So ZAZ adapted the show, concept and characters to the big screen with The Naked Gun in 1988. The film centers on Drebin trying to prevent Vincent from assassinating Queen Elizabeth II (Janet Charles) Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban) from baseball great Reggie Jackson, who was Ludwig's pager hypnotized and performed the act. It was a huge success, grossing over $78 million worldwide and claiming Network executive who canceled the show in 1982.
There are a number of reasons why the movie was such a hit. Leslie Nielsen is in the prime of his newfound comedy stardom. The casting of dramatic actors in comedy roles, no longer surprising at this point, is still very effective, with two standouts (the other one we'll get). Priscilla Presley stepped out of the shadow of a man named Elvis Presley to play Ludwig's assistant and Drebin's love interest Jane Spencer, and showed some serious comedic chops. Montalban is engrossed in the joke, and in the absurdity surrounding Ludwig, he gives Khan all the charm and danger of Star Trek. There isn't a single maudlin moment, no dramatic sequence that slows the movie down. From "Good Beaver" to Ludwig falling to his death from the top of the stadium, being run over by a bus, flattened by a steamroller, and worst of all, trampled by a marching band (in the same way Ed (George Kennedy )'s father died), and interesting things were happening almost every second. The Naked Gun is a movie where every Missed some puns or visual gags before watching Surrender. In the end, the humor in the film is largely timeless (two people having safe sex with a full body condom are never not funny).
'The Naked Gun' Gets Trapped in 'Airplane!'s Shadow
However, several things did limit the film's popularity. For starters, as great as The Naked Gun is, it always seems to fall in the shadow of the plane! It ranks behind it in many "Best Comedy Movie" lists (AFI's "100 Years...100 Laughs" lists Airplane! at No. 10, while The Naked Gun doesn't even rank), And with far less influence in pop culture, citing Airplanes! , like the aforementioned "Shirley", is more prevalent in today's society. Also, while the film's humor is largely timeless, there are also some dated elements that, while still entertaining, don't have the same impact today. Using Reggie Jackson as a hypnotic assassin is much more interesting when people know his place in baseball history...or even know who he is, period. Likewise, Drebin opens by interrupting a meeting of America's enemies, including Idi Amin, Mikhail Gorbachev ("I make them think I'm a good guy"), and Yasser Allah Fat. Again, interesting point, but you're unlikely to find someone who knows them today. However, the one thing that has had the biggest impact on the legacy of The Naked Gun is the one thing the movies have no control over: O.J. Simpson.
Maybe you've heard of him? Simpson, who plays Detective Nordberg in the film, is shot, beaten in a hospital bed, then falls down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair and flips over the edge onto a baseball field. At the time, it was a great casting decision, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's casting in Airplane! Then in 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. He was acquitted, but in the court of public opinion and in civil court, he was found responsible for their deaths, and Simpson's involvement soon proved problematic for businesses associated with him - including, sadly, The Naked Gun.
With all of this in mind, The Naked Gun remains a masterpiece of comedy, even if some of its shortcomings aren't enough to knock it from its perch. if you Haven't seen it, if you have, watch it again. To paraphrase Frank Drebin, you notice things you never saw before... birds singing, dew glistening on new leaves, traffic lights. That, and the most moving rendition of the American national anthem ever made on film.