No slapstick comedy was complete without the humorous antics of funnyman Leslie Nielsen, who sadly passed away in November this year at the age of 84. The undoubted master of deadpan and cheesy gags will be sorely missed amongst the film industry and fans across the globe. Nielsen mastered a countenance of complete obliviousness which was utterly hilarious. The Canadian was best known for his roles in Airplane! and The Naked Gun Trilogy. However, Nielsen first came to prominence as a dramatic actor. As a tribute, here is a list of some of Nielsen’s best movies.
The creators of Airplane! offer more corny gags, gaudy clichés and slapstick silliness in this gloriously tacky spoof cop-thriller. Six years after the cancellation of the short-lived TV series Police Squad! the makers decided to release a feature length for theatres in which Nielsen returned to his role as the dim-witted Lt Frank Drebin. Like Airplane! you laugh and then laugh at yourself for laughing. Most of the jokes are incredibly dumb, yet this movie is more than just nonstop one-liners; there is a manic progression to this premise. However, a synopsis of this admirably ludicrous plot is nearly impossible. It centres on Drebin’s investigation into the shooting of a cop during a preposterous drugs bust, with Priscilla Presley and Ricardo Montalban featuring as suspects. But once again, Nielsen steals the show, holding the whole wacky scheme together with his somewhat cool and needless dramatics.
A splendid satire interlaced with slapstick and scatological misunderstandings. Any apparent flaws in this movie seemingly go undetected such is the speediness that gags are churned out. Nielsen’s supporting role in this successful spoof was a huge watershed in his career. The ethos of the movie, a parody of dramatic disaster films such as Zero Hour! and Airport, was based on building a comedy around actors who were traditionally know for their dramatic roles (other actors included Peter Graves, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges). However it was Nielsen who was the linchpin behind surprising success of Airplane! His absurd dead-pan deliveries were the most memorable of the film. When asked, “Surely you can’t be serious?” he responds tersely, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” This comedic barter was ranked #79 in the list of top 100 movie quotes of all time by the American Film Institute.
Before he perfected the art of deadpan comedy Nielsen was your classic leading man complete with square-jaw, stern countenance and poofy dark hair. This sci-fi retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was just Nielsen’s second movie and launched him to semi-stardom. This classic ‘50s sci-fi possesses timeless special effects and excellent photography. But the key to this successful reinvention is its ingenious scripting. A US spaceship crew investigate a secluded planet, deserted except for Pigeon’s odd Dr Morbius and his daughter Miranda and their robot Robby. The crew learn that monster-minded thing Caliban has destroyed the planet’s other inhabitants and it’s about to pick a fight with them.
This is undoubtedly one of Nielsen’s best pre-farce movies. This fish-out-of-water comedy see’s naive rich boy Pete (Nielsen) crash-land into a Mississippi swamp to be rescued by Tammy Tyree (Debbie Reynolds), an unsophisticated country girl, who lives with her moonshiner of a grandfather. When Pete is nursed back to health, he returns home to his fiancée. But when Gramps goes to jail, Tammy is forced to leave home and seek refuge with Pete in his middle-class home. Tammy’s sickly cheerfulness, which is borderline psychotic, brings about changes to Pete and his family. Such was the success of Pevney’s romantic musical a number of successful TV and film sequels followed.
This underrated satirical mockumentary isn’t technically a movie but gets a mention out of sheer curiosity. Created by HBO, Nielsen and a whole host of other Canadian stars feature in this news-style get up which light-heartedly pokes fun of their native country. The plot revolves around a laughable Canadian scheme to undermine and infiltrate the US. The program featured John Candy, Lorne Michaels and William Shatner playing themselves. Nielsen’s appearance tied in with the fact his brother was Canada’ deputy prime minster at the time.
Aidan Donovan is a copywriter who produces articles for a van leasing company.