Monday, 29 November 2010

Leslie Nielsen: Ride Forever!

So Leslie Nielsen died from complications relating to pneumonia. This is bad news.

I'm not going to pretend to be some sort of authority on him; there's plenty of other, better researched obituaries out there if you care to look. I'm just gonna mention a couple of pieces of his work that mean something to me.

Forbidden Planet

I haven't seen this for years, but I have this over-riding memory of seeing it as a kid and, due to my familiarity with Nielsen's later, silly films, being very confused as to why it wasn't a comedy. And why Nielsen didn't have silver hair. This impostor was too young and handsome to be Leslie Nielsen. He was a Captain Kirk, chiseled jaw-type, always protecting the damsel in distress and never once falling down a staircase or something. My infant disappointment is only testament to the range Nielsen has exhibited in his career. He wasn't always a goof.

Airplane!/Naked Gun

Nielsen's ascent to comedy royalty began with "Airplane!", a shrewdly cast effort from the Zucker brothers utilising mostly straight actors to deliver the deadpan ridiculousness. Along with Lloyd Bridges, Nielsen stole the show as the stoic Dr. Rumack, intoning bizarre words of wisdom and getting to answer the immortal question "Surely you can't be serious?". I have always loved this film, and Nielsen is in the top three best things in it.

The success of "Airplane!" led to Nielsen working with the Zuckers on a TV show called "Police Squad", which is probably the first time I saw Nielsen on screen. I vividly remember seeing a TV show I hadn't seen before, the scene involved a silver-haired gentleman bouncing around a giant pin-ball machine or something and flying out of a window. I was hooked.

"Police Squad" was unfortunately short-lived, but led to the creation of "The Naked Gun" series. Essentially a big-screen revamp of the show, the films are relentlessly silly fun from the barn-storming kick-off of the first (below) to the Oscar-bound, hermaphrodite revealing climax of "33 1/3".

These films do have a lot to answer for, however, as the current spate of shallow, low-brow spoof films, though influenced by "Airplane!", can be more readily blamed on "The Naked Gun" and "Hotshots!". Nielsen went a long way to elevating the silliness in these films into an art form, which is why a lot of shitty contemporary spoofs wanted him on board, too. It was almost like he legitimised stupidity.

Due South

My favourite piece of work from Nielsen is the recurring role of Buck Frobisher in the TV series "Due South". If you are unaware, "Due South" a comedy/drama/cop show about a Mountie who goes to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father and, for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, remains attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate. Nielsen plays a veteran Mountie who shows up a few times throughout the series and is very funny indeed. I remember chortling myself silly in my youth every time he shouted "Taxi!" after falling off his horse.

Watch this to the end for some strangely poignant Nielsen business:

So let's all say thanks to Leslie for the good times, and politely disregard some of the shit he's been in. After the performances mentioned above, the man has nothing to apologise for.

This is how I will remember him:

But I think he'd probably be just as happy to be remembered like this:


  1. Leslie Nielsen was in a movie that WASN'T funny?! (shock). He will be missed, some of my fondest munchkin memories involved watching stuff like Airplane! and The Naked Gun with my little brother. There was just something so hilariously naive about all his characters that made it work, and the crappy parody films today don't have it

  2. I had no idea he was in Forbidden Planet, one of my favourites as a kid. Airplane! will always be one of the greatest spoofs ever - they just don't make 'em like that any more/