bill bodkin looks at the great comedic actor…
Last night, the movie industry lost an icon.
Leslie Nielsen, the famed comedic actor, died at age 84 after succumbing to pneumonia while battling a staph infection in Florida.
Ever since I was young, Nielsen has been in my pop-culture world. When I was youngster, I often confused Nielsen with fellow silver-maned comic actor Steve Martin. When I got older, I became a huge Nielsen fan, watching him as the bumbling Lieutenant Frank Drebin in the first two Naked Gun movies and the Police Squad reruns that were always on Comedy Central. And through the years, the seemingly ageless Nielsen seemed to be everywhere, whether it be popping up on TV series or appearing in an endless series of spoof-themed movies, some excellent, some abysmal.
Yet, no matter the quality of the film he appeared in, Leslie Nielsen could always get you to laugh. He perfected the straight-faced fool. His facial expressions were classic, the dear-in-the-headlights look of confusion in his eyes and his perfectly timed pratfalls were a comedic institution. His ability to rattle off some of the most ridiculous things in movie history with a stone face was amazing. His comedic sensibility was art. His sense of humor could make a young me laugh even when a lot of the jokes were well over my head.
The movies of Leslie Nielsen to me, and probably many others, were a “gateway drug” to good comedy. Yes, his later work wasn’t exactly top notch, but his classic film moments will live on. So in memory of the late, great, Mr. Nielsen we look at back on some of his best roles …
Airplane: “And Don’t Call Me Shirley”
After years of being a serious actor, bouncing through bad B movies (The Forbidden Planet, which was spoofed by Mystery Science Theater 3000) to TV (everything from Fantasy Island to Dr. Kildare), the Zucker Brothers classic Airplane! was the turning point in Nielsen’s career. As the stone faced Dr. Rumack, Nielsen delivered one of the most classic and ridiculous lines in cinema history.
Police Squad!: “The Credits”
Hot off the success of Airplane! the Zuckers and Nielsen reunited for the criminally underappreciated TV series Police Squad! The off-the-wall crime drama spoof series was absolutely brilliant. So brilliant that it inspired the Naked Gun movies (most people forget that the first movie was entitled The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad). Below is what made the series so amazing, the end credits and the ludicrous stuff that occurred during it.
The Naked Gun: Enriquo Pallazo
The scene that never gets old … Frank Drebin impersonates famed opera singer Enriquo Pallazzo.
Due South: The Speech
Nielsen appeared in another criminally under-appreciated show, Due South. The series aired in the mid-90s on CBS. The series starred Paul Gross as a Canadian mountie who is working in conjunction with a Chicago detective (David Marciano). Nielsen appeared as Buck Forbisher, a Mountie and friend of Gross’ slain father. In usual Nielsen style, his stone-faced absurdity was running a muck.
Wrongfully Accused: The Forgotten Nielsen Classic
A lot of people forget about this one. Wrongfully Accused was a spoof of all the Fugitive-style movies that had been released in the 90s. The film was actually pretty smart in its spoof-ing, forgoing the over-the-top slapstick and gross-outs that would become the fodder for Nielsen movies to come.