Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Memory: Leslie Nielsen

Comedy spoof icon Leslie Nielsen died on Sunday at age 84 due to complications from pneumonia. He was surrounded by friends and family.

I can honestly say I never thought Leslie Nielsen was a great actor but I can pay Mr. Nielsen a compliment anyway, he was very good at what he did. No, he never won an Academy Award, he wasn't a top box-office draw, he didn't make the women swoon, like George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but he did something just as important. He entertained us. He made us laugh. And that is a great accomplishment. Whenever I was having a bad day due to an incident at work, an argument with a friend or girlfriend, a case of road rage, sitting down watching a Leslie Nielsen spoof was sure to put a smile on my face and ease the worries of the day.

Nielsen was one of those actors that seemed to have a great cross-over appeal. As much as I enjoyed watching his movies so did my grandfather. I remember numerous times watching "The Naked Gun" movies with him as we both laughed. Both younger and older movie fans could find something to laugh at watching any number of his movies.

What a great many younger fans may not know is Nielsen was actually a serious actor at one time. His best known performance in a serious movie may very well be in the now considered science-fiction classic, "Forbidden Planet" (1956) he also played the Captain in the 70s disaster movie "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972).

He got his start doing work mostly on television shows in the 50s and 60s including shows such as "Rawhide" (where Clint Eastwood got his start) and "Peyton Place", based on the great movie.

The turning point in Nielsen's career came in the 1980s when the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams offered a role to Nielsen in the disaster movie spoof, "Airplane!" (1980). A lot of people thought Nielsen stole the show and had some of the film's best lines. His "and don't call me shirley" line has probably been quoted by every person on the planet, including me.

From that time onward Nielsen had a close relationship with the Zuckers and their co-writers. He came to define the modern day spoof. Once upon a time Mel Brooks was seen as the king of the spoof with films like "Blazing Saddles" (1974), "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and "High Anxiety" (1977). But Nielsen gave him a run for his money. The two eventually worked together on Brooks' last film as director, "Dracula: Dead & Loving It" (1995). Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, in his "Scary Movie 3" (2003) review, called Nielsen "the Olivier of spoofs".

Unfortunately the spoof genre has went into a decline. The public seems to have lost interest in the genre with movies such as "Epic Movie" (2007), which I actually like despite popular opinion, "Disaster Movie" (2008) and "Dance Flik" (2009). Many feel the films no longer seem fresh and original. They are more corny than funny. Still I usually look forward to a good corny spoof.

Nielsen was married four times and had two children with his second wife, Alisande Ullman. His last wife was Barbaree Earl Nielsen, whom he married in 2001.

Here are my ratings for Leslie Nielsen movies.

1. How To Commit Marriage (1969) *** (out of ****)

2. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) *** (out of ****)

3. Airplane! (1980) *** (out of ****)

4. Nuts (1987) *** (out of ****)

5. The Naked Gun (1988) *** (out of ****)

6. Repossessed (1990) * 1\2 (out of ****)

7. The Naked Gun 2 1\2 (1991) *** (out of ****)

8. The Naked Gun 33 1\3 (1994) ** (out of ****)

9. Dracula: Dead & Loving It (1995) *** (out of ****)

10. Spy Hard (1996) ** (out of ****)

11. Wrongfully Accused (1998) ** (out of ****)

12. Scary Movie 3 (2003) * (out of ****)

13. Scary Movie 4 (2006) *** (out of ****)

14. Superhero Movie (2008) * (out of ****)