Monday, November 29, 2010

Nice beaver

First Bernard Matthews, now Leslie Nielsen. Who will be the next giant of 1980s culture to depart this world? My money's on Jim Bowen. Or possibly Gordon the Gopher, whose addiction to crystal meth has surely screwed up his insides.

Nielsen had a brilliant gift for deadpan gag-making, completing the most excruciating delightfully bad puns set up by other actors, none more famous than the "Surely you can't be serious..." "I am serious and don't call me Shirley" exchange in Airplane!

Some other favourites:
  • "We're sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn't dead then."
  • "Is this some kind of bust?... "Yes ma'am, it's very impressive but we need to ask you some questions."
  • "It took me two weeks to find Stella's apartment. She'd neglected to give me her address."
  • [offered a cigar he is asked "Cuban?"] "No, Dutch-Irish, my father came from Wales."
  • "What was it we had for dinner tonight?"... "There was a choice of steak or fish." ... "Yes, I remember, I had the lasagne."
His obliviousness was what made the Zucker-scripted lines so funny, his knack of acting, as Jerry Zucker put it, "like a fish in water". His later films, as spoof followed spoof, were pretty poor but that was more to do with the quality of the writing than his acting.

The Naked Gun trilogy was a huge part of my adolescence. With my friend Richard, I watched the video of the original film until the tape snapped even though we knew all the jokes backwards. We knew some of them forwards as well. Familiarity bred contentment.

It perplexed my father, who often wondered why George Peppard had gone into slapstick. What a shame the A Team remake came too late for Nielsen to tackle Hannibal Smith. "Cover me, Murdoch" (cue coat being dropped over his head)...

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