Cinophile: The Naked Gun

3 min read
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A generation still mourns the passing of Leslie Nielsen four years ago. The twilight of his career was not the greatest – the last notable thing he starred in was Superhero Movie. But Nielsen was also the face of Eighties slapstick, arguably the golden age of the parody genre. He appeared in several of the movies that shaped the genre, including the two Airplane! films.

But other than Shirley jokes, Nielson was best known as Frank Drebin, the crazy police detective who makes Inspector Clouseau look as nimble as a cat burglar. But unlike the Pink Panther films, Drebin’s whole world was made out of surreal comic insanity. This is no surprise, considering it was created by ZAZ or  David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. They practically invented the modern parody film, but The Naked Gun is easily their magnum opus.

Drebin investigates the attack on his partner, played by a then-very popular O.J. Simpson, who stumbled upon a drug ring. But soon the bigger plot – the assassination of a visiting Queen Elizabeth II through mind control – rears its head. Will Drebin get to the bottom of the plot and safe the Queen? Of course he will, but not before body-sliding her down a banquet table first.

In true ZAZ fashion the jokes come in all shapes and sizes. Many of today’s slapstick films go for cheap laughs and limit their repertoire. The genre greats did it all and the jokes in The Naked Gun are as fresh as they were 26 year ago. The jokes fire rapidly and jump seamlessly through visual gags, one liners  and skits, fueled by the chaos Drebin causes.

Resurrected from a short-lived comedy show called Police Squad, The Naked Gun lives on today as a fan favourite. It was a huge success and still ranks in the top 10 highest grossing spoof films. Two more hugely successful sequels followed it and after several years in the wilderness Leslie Nielsen started a great run in the parody genre.

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The Naked Gun is a continuation of Police Squad, a cop spoof show that briefly ran in 1982. The show has a cult following and its influence can still be felt today. One opening credit scene of Family Guy is a homage to Police Squad‘s opening credits, featuring a police car racing through ridiculous places.
The Naked Gun had several interesting cast members. King of the spoof genre Leslie Nielsen was joined by Priscilla Presley, once the wife of Elvis Presley, and O.J. Simpson – back then still a huge sports icon. George Kennedy was cast because the studio wanted an Oscar winner and the villain was portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, who was also Star Trek‘s original Khan.
The Naked Gun was the 8th most successful movie of 1988. It is also the 9th most successful spoof movie of all time. Nielsen’s films appear twice more on the list: Airplane! is 8th and the first Naked Gun sequel ranked 7th. All three Naked Gun movies are in the all-time Top 20. The Naked Gun has also attracted other accolades and often frequents ‘Best Movies Ever’ lists in publications like Total Film and the New York Times.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: August 4, 2014

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