- Directed by David Zucker
- December 2, 1988
Detective Frank Drebin is on the case to foil a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (also known as simply The Naked Gun) is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. It plays fast and loose with reality and is a parody not only to the hard-boiled detective film but also of some of the movies that Leslie Nielsen starred in. He started his career as a dramatic actor and once he did the classic Airplane! he was forever connected to comedy.
Leslie Nielsen at one point said (this was after he was cast in Airplane!) that he had been miscast all his career as a dramatic actor when he was really a comedian. And he was so very good in comedic roles as well as dramatic parts. He could bring the serious and with his rubbery face accentuate the comedy. Interestingly in this film the lines for his character of Frank Drebin were written seriously with the comedy intended to come from those around him. He is the straight man in an insane world.
George Kennedy is cast as Frank’s partner Capt. Ed Hocken. George Kennedy is an underrated and at times maligned actor. He was great in comedy and great in drama. The unfortunate part is when he decided to do trash it was utter garbage. Actors often do paycheck films and when Kennedy did them, they were very paycheck. I think the focus on them has given him an undeserved reputation.
The love interest of Jane Spencer in this movie is played by none other than Priscilla Presley. I think she was on the original run of Dallas at the time but I am completely unaware of any type of work she ever did in film or television beyond that other than The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. She is not someone I would initially cast for a comedic film, but she was comedic gold in this. Like Nielsen, here lines were serious but delivered in a comedic situation.
There was a time when O.J. Simpson was just another former football player doing sports casting and the occasional parts in movies. As someone that lived through the good times it is hard to reconcile what he was seen as with what he is. As Det. Nordberg is often the victim of Frank’s incompetence and as an actor showed good comedic timing.
Another unusual casting choice was Ricardo Montalban as Vincent Ludwig who is a businessman who smuggled in heroin and apparently provides assassins. Montalban did comedies in his career but is identified more with drama or the fluff that was Fantasy Island. Ludwig’s assassins are programmed individuals who have no idea they are actually assassins. Ludwig is contacted by Pahpshmir (Raye Birk) to help him assassinate Queen Elizabeth (Jeanette Charles). Why? Never explained and you really never think about it because you are laughing way too much at the rapid-fire humor.
As ridiculous as this movie is you really do not think about how Ricardo Montalban providing assassins for Pahpshmir fits in with his heroin smuggling operation. But who cares? There is joke after joke in this movie. You finish laughing at one and there is another to make you burst out laughing again. Even the end credits have humor in them. Who does that? As I recall this was an accidental discovery on my part having to wait for the theater to empty out back in the day. And do not forget background gags. Not many comedies do that.
The Naked Gun just goes for the silly. From the opening credits in Beirut where Frank took his vacation to the closing moments at the baseball stadium, there is just one joke after the other and it is all played for laughs. There is a borderline cartoon logic to this film. They probably could have pushed it all further, but this is still some seriously silly stuff. For example Ludwig gets run over by a steamroller to cartoon flat and trampled by a marching band!
This film was a spinoff/inspired by the extremely short-lived ABC series Police Squad! which was created by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. Despite being extremely hilarious and receiving critical acclaim it was cancelled after a mere six episodes. It was appointment television. I remember being excited for this film because of its connection to the series.
The movie (and its sequels) reuses many gags from the show. If you saw the show, you will see that. But somehow in the film format they are refreshed and new and still hilarious. Perhaps because the style of humor here is rare and rarely done well and seeing it done right is unique.
Other than Nielsen, actors Ed Williams, who played scientist Ted Olson, and Ronald “Tiny Ron” Taylor who played very tall officer Al seen only from the neck down, reprised their roles from the series. All others were recast. Strangely it does not affect your enjoyment. You will laugh at the jokes and then laugh because you found something so juvenile funny.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a piece of classic comedy from the masters of comedy of the time. There are few films that you will find more entertaining. It is as funny now as it was when it first came out. This is definitely a must see!