Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP: Leslie Nielsen Merges with the Infinite

The New York Times is reporting that movie legend (in my book, anyway, and I will fight you if you say otherwise), Leslie Nielsen, has passed at the age of 84.

It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.
It's not much of an anecdote, but the first movie to ever literally make me fall out of my chair laughing was The Naked Gun.  I don't even remember exactly what scene took the cake, but I remember being in middle school at the Arbor Cinema and Lt. Frank Drebin was the funniest thing I'd ever seen (it was likely the scene where Drebin breaks into Ricardo Montalban's penthouse). 

Anyway, what I truly remember is finding myself having doubled over and the slid right out of my chair.  Always interesting when you find out a figure of speech has a basis to it.  But that's exactly the kind of movie it is (when you're 13), and that's the kind of effect Nielsen's delivery had on me.

The great thing about Nielsen was that he seemed like the straight man, but whether as Drebin, Dracula or Dr. Rumack, he got the best dialog and he delivered it with aplomb.

Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

Jane: Goodyear?

Frank: No, the worst.
The Arbor Cinema has since been replaced by a Cheesecake Factory, and the third Naked Gun movie was, frankly, not great, but a generation of people grew up believing you need to be able to deliver ridiculous dialog with a completely straight face and tough guy demeanor.

And somewhere along the line, some kids might decide they'd rather be a Frank Drebin than a Magnum PI or whatever.  I'm just saying.

I am, also, of course, a huge fan of the movie Airplane! (and its sequel), and even as a pretty small kid thought "that doctor guy is awesome".  Nielsen played Dr. Rumack, who somehow either had the best lines or the best timing in the movie.  Who else could sell "and don't call me 'Shirley'"?

In college I finally ventured to the Paramount one balmy summer evening to see Forbidden Planet.  After having had grown up with Nielsen as a comedic actor, I was suprised to find him as the leading male star of the science fiction classic.  Every day when I pass down my stairwell, I pass under the movie poster from Forbidden Planet and Nielsen's name. 

One highlight of living in the greater Phoenix area was that I believe Nielsen appeared on local safety commercials.  I have no idea why Leslie Nielsen and Alice Cooper were teaming up to appear in these ads, but it was always a treat to see the guy show up on TV, clearly enjoying goofing around in the name of safer driving.

I am, of course, very sad to know that Nielsen has passed, but he left a terrific bunch of movies and TV shows behind (if you've never seen Police Squad!, the show that started the Naked Gun series, I highly recommend). 

Let's bid a great actor adieu.  Surely, he will be missed.


mcsteans said...

I heard the "Don't call me Shirley" clip on 3 separate radio stations within the span of about a minute this morning. R.I.P., Leslie.

rhpt said...

You know, I have never seen any of the movies where he plays a non-comedic role.

Nathan said...

Wow, I, too, had the exact same "falling out of my chair laughing" experience with The Naked Gun. About 20 minutes in, I was laughing so hard I dropped to the floor (I had an aisle seat at Loew's in Spring).

The League said...

Well, at the Loew's, your chances of falling out of a seat from it breaking or sliding on a slick ooze of Dr. Pepper and popcorn oil were always pretty high, anyway.

Simon MacDonald said...

He will be missed. One of my favourite roles for Nielsen was the father in "Men With Brooms" which is a large budget, for Canadian standards, movie where he was growing medicinal mushrooms :)