Like most of you I was both saddened and shocked by the loss of Canadian actor and whoopee cushion spruiker Leslie Nielsen today. Though not a tragic death, Nielsen’s passing is still an upper-cut to the heart – if only because the man worked right up until his passing, so it wasn’t as if he’d been off of our screens for years or anything; he was always on it. And in his eighties, Nielsen seemingly had just much enthusiasm, zing and ability as he ever had.
Most people, especially the kids of today, know Nielsen best as the ‘funny guy’ from all the spoof movies – “Naked Gun”, “Scary Movie 3”, “Repossessed” and so on, but the rest of us remember the man for not only those parts, but the heavy-handed fare that came before Frank Drebin. Off-screen, Nielsen was always ‘that guy’ – I remember seeing him on The Midday Show with Ray Martin years ago, and I believe he was plugging “Nuts” (the drama he did with Barbara Streisand), but there he was cracking jokes and sitting on a fart balloon. Was this the guy from “Creepshow’? Seems so. Hollywood took notice.
Here’s my top ten favourite performances from Leslie Nielsen. Rest in peace, Sir.
1. Lt Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun”
I remember a cousin of mine saw it the first week, not knowing what to expect, and came back bragging about how hilarious it was. Naturally, I had to see it for myself. I didn’t expect much – can you blame me? It was based on a TV laffer that was gone before you could call a cop Shirley, and Leslie Nielsen wasn’t exactly a big drawcard. But he, my cousin, was right – it was undoubtedly the funniest film of it’s type in years, and more so, gave us one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history! This was the film that turned Leslie Nielsen dramatic actor into Leslie Nielsen crazy canuck.
2. Charlie Telfer in “Ransom!”
A terrific ’50s crime drama – later the basis of the Ron Howard directed film of the same name – about a couple whose young son is kidnapped. Nielsen gives a bravura performance as a journalist who, along with the chief of police, tells the couple they’ve got buckleys chance of getting their kid back. Great performance. Good movie.
3. Commander John J.Adams in “Forbidden Planet”
The film that could’ve turned Nielsen into a matinee idol. Just love Fred Wilcox’s 23rd Century space thriller, it’s a terrific time but more so, features terrific turns by Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robby the Robot (!) and, of course, Nielsen.
4. Dr Rumack in “Airplane”
One of the funniest films of the early ’80s. My BETA copy has been chewed to bits it was played that often. There’s so many great performances in here – Peter Graves, Robert Stack, Robert Hays, but there’s no forgetting Leslie Nielsen’s role.
5. The Captain in “The Poseidon Adventure”
Really love this film, and I think Nielsen’s performance here is one of the strongest he’s ever given.
6. Richard Vickers in “Creepshow”
So many strong performances in here that Nielsen can’t be singled out, but having said that, he gives one of his most devilish turns here -kids will have a hard time recognizing Frank Drebin in this fella. Just typing about it, makes me want to watch “Creepshow” again. Maybe I will. After I finish this, of course.
7. Mr Dunbar in “Soul Man”
Fonder memories of the movie – a high-concept comedy starring Tommy Howell as a Caucasian who, in order to get into a university, pretends to be black – than I do Nielsen’s performance in it, but nevertheless this one’s worth noting because his turn is his dramatic persona and comedic persona meeting somewhere in the middle.
8. Lucas Hollingsworth in “The Golden Girls” (TV)
Nielsen, perfectly cast, played the charming Hollingworth, Blanche’s uncle. In the series’ final episode, Dorothy and Hollingworth got married.
9. Allen Green in “Nuts”
Nielsen’s last dramatic role was a goodie, he played a man who high-priced hooker Barbara Streisand kills in self defense. Nice courtroom drama. Brief but pivotal, not to mention memorable, performance by Nielsen.
10. WD-40 Dick Steele in “Spy Hard”
Not a great film, but a fun performance by Nielsen as a harebrained 007-type. Personal connection to this one too – remember it being a great night when I first saw it, but mainly, I worked publicity on the film.