What’s been amazing to me in since finding out that Leslie Nielsen died has been the outpouring of affection for the guy, and deservedly so. It seems you can’t find a single person that hasn’t been made to laugh by Leslie Nielsen at some point in their lives. That’s sort of amazing, and it’s indicative of both a life well-lived and a successful career. When thinking about what I should write about Leslie Nielsen- or even if I should write at all, since there will already be numerous obits for the guy- I realized just how much of a role his movies played in my childhood movie-viewing experience. And that’s what I’m going to write about today- what Leslie Nielsen’s films meant to me.
The Naked Gun
This is one of about 20 movies that I remember seeing in theaters when I was a kid. My father loves slapstick. I was a 12 year old baseball nerd. Combine the two with Leslie Nielsen and you had the perfect family film for us to go see. The problem here is that, at age 12, I was in the throes of puberty. So as Frank Drebin climbed up a ladder, peeked under Jane Spencer’s skirt, and wryly mentioned “Nice beaver!”, it was a little awkward. It was extremely funny, too, but definitely awkward. The same applied to the scene where Drebin is in a car lamenting that everything he sees reminds him of his ex, as the camera subtly shifts to a shot of two breast-shaped silos. I giggled, and loved the hell out of it. And of course, the baseball scenes were a riot, most notably his turn as the umpire.
I watched this with a friend of mine when I was 9 or 10 years old. For weeks afterwards, one of us would preface what we were saying with “Surely… [whatever we were gonna say]”, to which the other would reply “Don’t call me Shirley”. I suppose it was thanks to Leslie Nielsen that I learned about comic set-ups.
Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear
By now, I was 15, and at a friend’s house. “Hey”, he said, “we rented the Naked Gun sequel. Wanna watch?”. And I did. The one, unforgettable sequence from this film for me is the interrogation at the sex store. First, this banter:
Lt. Frank Drebin: We’re looking for Hector Savage. Where is he?
Busty Female Shop Assistant: Why should I tell you, copper?
Lt. Frank Drebin: Because I’m the last line of defense between sleaze like this and the decent people of this town. [a male shop assistant walks in from a back storeroom]
Sex Shop Assistant: Oh, hi, Frank. Say, we finally got that model D83 Swedish sure-grip suck machine that you ordered.
Lt. Frank Drebin: [to the Female Assistant; embarassed] It’s a gift.
Watching the stoic George Kennedy holding a chainsaw with a jiggling rubber phallus in that same store is one of the better things I’ve seen in a comedy.
His clip in the horror anthology, alongside Ted Danson, was easily my favorite. I realize it’s a departure from the slapstick of some of these other films I’m referencing but if you like horror, it’s well worth checking out.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It
As a college student, I didn’t have premium cable. But during the summer, when I’d stay at my parents’ house, I’d make up for it by staying up into the wee smalls watching whatever tasty celluloid goodness that HBO or Showtime or Cinemax was offering me on that particular night. A great deal of the time in the summer of 1996, Dracula: Dead and Loving It was the best option. “How can this go wrong?”, I thought. “It’s Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielsen”. Um… I should move on? You’re right. But it’s ok, Leslie (and Mel). All is forgiven.
And that’s that. I know it’s not the best tribute, as it doesn’t even include Police Squad or pretty much anything after Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But what I did manage to mention qualifies as some of the best movie memories of my childhood. R.I.P., Leslie.