Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 1 release of The Naked Gun. The film containing possible the funniest spoof character of all time in Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin. For a laugh-a-minute hoot, you’d do far worse than to check this film out!
Airplane! was a spoof of the high number of laughably serious cast-ensemble disaster films, mixed with the unique humour of Zucker, Abraham and Zucker. Eight years later, The Naked Gun gave us one of the funniest and loveable characters to ever grace the cinema in Lt. Frank Drebin, whilst still maintaining the unique Zucker/Abraham/Zucker-style humour!
The character first debuted in the short-lived Police Squad series. Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, the successful trio behind Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie, sold the show to Paramount in 1982 and six thirty-minute episodes were produced before the series was axed after a muted public reception. These six episodes have since become treasured favourites by comedy fans around the world, due to many surreal yet hilarious trademarks that have maintained Police Squad as a cult classic. The show would have the ‘Special Guest Star’ (ranging from William Shatner to Robert Goulet) dying in his first scene of every episode, and would then follow with the narrator announcing the name of the episode, despite the episode caption always revealing a different episode name! Frank would also drive over a number of rubbish bins corresponding to the number of that episode! The series was fantastic and surreal in the most refreshing way, and it’s a travesty that only six episodes were produced. No doubt a DVD release of the episodes will surely come.
The Naked Gun is essentially a feature-length Police Squad episode, and a proper vehicle for Zucker/Abraham/Zucker to house what is perhaps their greatest comic creation. David Zucker was placed in charge of directing the film, with Robert K. Weiss the producer and Pat Proft hired to aid the trio of screenwriters. Just like in Police Squad, Leslie Nielsen was brought in to play Frank Drebin. Nielsen was a serious actor on the highest ham level from the fifties through to the seventies, and starred in Forbidden Planet and Columbo must notably. Nielsen’s break was in Zucker/Abraham/Zucker’s very own Airplane!, in which the extreme seriousness he brought to the role of Doctor Rumack rendered him one of the funniest of a very funny bunch of characters. Realising that disaster movies were funny for all of the wrong reasons, Zucker/Abraham/Zucker knew that casting an actor that audiences never identified with in a comedy sense would be the key to the film. After Charlton Heston and about thirty other famous hams turned Airplane! down, Leslie Nielsen was cast and his alternate career status as the king of spoof comedy occurred almost overnight. The popularity of Nielsen’s character in Airplane! persuaded Zucker/Abraham/Zucker to write Police Squad for him, and when Paramount green-lighted The Naked Gun Nielsen had to just repeat the same formula.
Although Nielsen reprised his Police Squad role, the rest of the cast were newcomers to the world of characters. Frank’s partner, Nordberg, changed from being white to black, and was played by O.J. Simpson. Frank’s chief, Captain Ed Hocken, was now to be played by veteran actor George Kennedy (who won an Oscar in 1967 for Cool Hand Luke), an actor who probably was considered in the same vein as Nielsen before the latter’s comedy deviation. As the film’s ‘Special Guest Villain’, Fantasy Island’s Mr. Roarke and Star Trek’s Khan, Ricardo Montalban, filled the role of Vincent Ludwig with great charisma. As this was a big-budget movie adaptation, Frank also gained a love interest in Jane, played by Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla Presley.
Here’s the film’s plot – Wealthy businessman Vincent Ludwig (Montalban) has financed a method of brainwashing that renders an innocent person a murderous assassin at the touch of a radio watch, and once the crime has been committed the brainwashed victim is completely unaware of his/her crimes. After Det. Nordberg (Simpson) is hospitalised after a failed drugs-bust, his partner, Frank Drebin (Nielsen) learns of a plot to assassinate visiting Queen Elizabeth II by Ludwig using a brainwashed celebrity baseball player!
For those of you new to the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker type of humour, it’s hard to explain using words, considering that their skills rely heavily on visual humour. Granted, The Naked Gun has a large portfolio of laugh-out-loud dialogue, but these lines are only funny because of the serious deadpan expressions on the characters’ faces. If anything, Frank Drebin is so funny because he is totally serious and completely, one hundred percent unaware that he has totally misunderstood everything around him. When Jane asks Frank if is he interested in a night-cap, he replies straight-faced that he doesn’t wear them. In another classic scene and a homage to Dirty Harry, Frank is being given a ticking off by his police commissioner, who tells him she doesn’t want any trouble like he had on the south side, and that’s her policy. Drebin authoritatively replies with “When I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing somebody in a park, I shoot the b**tards, that’s my policy.” He is then informed that he murdered some fine actors performing Shakespeare’s Caesar in a park! Never at any point in the film is Frank aware that he has done anything abnormal, or is part of any joke; he seriously believes himself to be a competent police officer, and so do his colleagues Ed and Nordberg. It’s almost as if the movie has given us two co-existing worlds, one sane and one completely insane. The insane world is Frank, Ed and Nordberg; characters total ignorant of their own incompetence. The sane world is occupied by every other character in the film and the audience, who actively partake in all of the jokes and humour of the film, and in a way that is completely unnoticed by Frank and co.
The list of classic visual jokes in the film are endless, and not worth spoiling here. They are the type of jokes that, the more times you watch The Naked Gun, the more you notice. The film is edited as if it solely occupies Frank, Ed and Nordberg’s world, in that it gives the sense that it never realises it is part of one big joke, and therefore never gives the action a breather in order to let the audience laugh. Indeed, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were worried about putting any of their good jokes after the (in)famous beaver sketch because the cinema audiences laughed for so long afterwards that they missed some of the next sequences as a result.
The Naked Gun spawned two funny yet inferior sequels, and after fourteen years is already laying the cement as a comedy classic to match that of Airplane! or The Graduate. Kudos deservedly goes to director David Zucker for attempting a film from a risky angle and pulling all of the stops to ensure that the film hits the top notch of every target it aims for. This is considering that other spoof efforts such as Dragnet and Amazon Women On The Moon had already fallen by the wayside. Count yourself lucky if you are about to see it for the first time, as you’ll forever wish that you could see a new comedy like this every week, and you’ll be forever arguing which sketch is the funniest. Incidentally, stay for the whole of the end-credit sequence, as the jokes even spill out onto that!
Presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, the transfer is relatively clean with good natural colouring and a decent lack of dirt and grain.
Presented in a remixed 5.1 surround mix, the soundtrack is abundant with clarity, if slightly lacking in the sense of full channel usage. Dialogue is mono and some music and sound effects are spread around the channels, but this was never going to be a reference disc anyhow.
Menu: A static menu incorporating some shots from the film as well as promotional artwork.
Packaging: The usual Paramount Widescreen Collection amaray packaging, and coloured slightly differently than the two singles to annoyingly not give a sense of cohesion.
Scene Specific Audio Commentary By David Zucker, Robert K. Weiss and hosted by Peter Tilden: Hosted unnecessarily by writer Peter Tilden, director Zucker and producer Weiss have a hoot for the film’s duration, and clearly had many hours of fun on the production. They don’t hold back on pointing out the mistakes of the film, nor at criticising jokes they either don’t get (and yet still used!) or didn’t like. As a companion piece, this is almost as funny as the film itself if you align yourself to their particular humour, and a smile will be constantly fixed to your face. The participants even jest about O.J. Simpson, asking each other if they tracked his career after the film and whether he is still acting! It’s a pity that Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, or even lesser co-writer Pat Proft, weren’t involved.
Theatrical Trailer: A funny trailer that throws in many of the film’s best moments but still leaves out enough to ensure that the film itself is still enjoyed.
Considering The Naked Gun and its sequels are identical in Region 2 and relatively cheap in seasonal sales, they should be snapped up without hesitation, as they are the perfect night’s antidote to a depressing day. The commentary track for the film is excellent, although surely the producers could have included the deleted scenes from the film that was used for initial network TV screenings, as this unreleased material still contains some hilarious scenes. One omission is a sequence in which Frank visits Nordberg in hospital and turns off what he thinks is a light-switch, only for it to be the power button to Nordberg’s life support machine! On the way out, Doctors frantically rush past Frank and Nordberg’s wife to assist Nordberg, and Frank, completely unaware of what he has just done and without looking where the doctors are headed, says to Nordberg’s wife – “just be glad you’re not that guy’s wife”!
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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