At 25: “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!”

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December 2, 2013 by billysparrow

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The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Released: December 2, 1988
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, O.J. Simpson

Above all, it was the shot of bodies being hurled off of a giant pile of baseball players that made me giddy with excitement.

That was the top scene in the commercials I’d kept seeing for “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” in the fall of 1988. I can remember exactly where I was–in the living room of my friend Donnie’s house–when I first saw the commercial for the movie. And I knew right after seeing the commercial that I absolutely needed to see this movie. As if it already wasn’t supercool that the guys who made “Airplane!” (which I had probably seen for the first time fairly recently) were making a new movie, it was also going to have baseball in it somehow. Are you kidding me? Such a combination made “The Naked Gun” likely to be one of my all-time favorites before I’d seen any more than what was in the commercial.

My early judgment was, of course, confirmed when I saw the actual movie (almost certainly in the theater on the weekend of its release, because I can’t imagine waiting very long). It was a masterpiece, and in many ways I still think it is (particularly the climactic baseball sequence). When I rewatched it the other day, I don’t know that I laughed as hard as I did as a 12-year-old in 1988, but I still laughed. A lot.

I did not know of the TV show “Police Squad” when “The Naked Gun” came out (and it’s probably a good thing, as some of the gags from the TV show pop up in the movie), so I really didnt know what to expect. But if it was going to be the same humor as “Airplane!” I was in.

While it would’ve been nice if Leslie Nielsen wasn’t the only returnee from “Airplane!” I felt good about the cast. Back in those halcyon, pre-Bronco Chase days, the idea of O.J. Simpson following in the footsteps of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seemed very promising indeed. And because certain events have sullied our opinion of the Juice, it is easy to forget how great O.J. is as Nordberg. He’s the star of the first scene after the opening credits after all. My favorite moment is the wet paint.

And though O.J. is only sparingly heard from after that, he is a key part of one of the movie’s more entertaining scenes, in which Nielsen shines as Frank Drebin, the cop who always says the wrong thing and never realizes it.

Is there anyone who can deliver a line like “Having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that’s the way I want to go” better than Leslie Nielsen?

But that’s only one of the Drebin gems here. There are many others I reference on a semiregular basis, but if I had to choose a favorite, I’d go with this exchange between Frank and Priscilla Presley’s Jane Spencer (she with the nice beaver):

Frank: It’s the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Jane: Goodyear?
Frank: No, the worst.

And, of course, sometimes Nielsen doesn’t even need words to make you laugh.

Often overlooked in “Naked Gun” appreciations is the contribution of the legendary Ricardo Montalban, whom I no doubt watched on “Fantasy Island” but couldn’t sway my attention from Herve Villechaize. (Barely relevant trivia break: Montalban got his first break playing the titular “Latin from Staten Island”.) And I wasn’t (and still am not) a Star Trek guy, so I had no idea what a good villain Montalban could be. He and Nielsen work perfectly together, especially in this scene.

Vincent Ludwig’s “You bet you do” is also something I repeat frequently, with my approximation of a Montalbanian accent–not great but probably good enough to fool George Takei.

And before I move on to one of the greatest film sequences of all time, I should make note of John Houseman’s impressive back-to-back cameo appearances, first as the IBC TV broadcast narrator in last week’s “Scrooged” and then as a driver’s ed instructor in “The Naked Gun.” This one is the more memorable one.

So now we arrive at the big baseball game between the Angels and Mariners, where Drebin and his partner Ed (George Kennedy) must stop Ludwig’s plot to kill the Queen. I suppose that there could be some day in the future when I watch this sequence and don’t laugh multiple times. But if that day does come, and you happen to be there with me, please punch me in the face. Hard. And often. I will deserve it, for I will have become a heinous, insufferable monster.

There’s the seven-person broadcast team (downright prescient) featuring Dr. Joyce Brothers. There’s the blooper reel featuring mauling and decapitation. And, of course, there’s Enrico Pallazzo.

If that were the end of the funny, you got your money’s worth. But wait…there’s more, starting with the greatest strike calls ever and moving on from there, all with accompaniment from Randy Newman.

But, for me, the biggest laugh comes toward the end. While it is tempting to say that the woman falling on Reggie Jackson is the peak (and, it should be noted, this is easily my favorite moment in Reggie Jackson’s career), the best moment is when the umps (one of whom is Joe West, whom I met and somehow didn’t discuss this scene with) are arguing with Drebin and he sees Reggie making his way toward the Queen. Their reaction when Drebin pulls out his gun is one of my all-time favorite movie moments.

Hats off to that YouTube video creator for doing the official scoring. And that brings up the point that if you’re a stickler for baseball realism, I could see why you might not find the whole sequence as enjoyable as I do. But, really, that would be the only acceptable excuse for not liking it.

There are definitely a few more lulls in the movie than I remember, but, overall, I still love it (unintentional allusion to my favorite moment in the inferior but still sporadically entertaining “The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear”). I don’t think there are many other movies that have made me laugh as hard, and I can’t imagine anything in the future coming close.

So, I salute “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” as my favorite film of 1988, and one of my favorites of all time. I might stop quoting it at some point, but it’s more likely that you’ll have to wait until a Laplander bites my nuts off to be rid of that.

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