When it comes to comedians, there’s a fine line between being talented funny and just being naturally funny. Leslie Nielsen was one such comedian who was a splendid mix of both talented and genuine hummer. He’s one of my favorite actors ever (as well as one of my favorite comedians) and it’s about time I give him the respected mention that he deserves. Well, big actors often make big names for themselves with big movies and one of his very first films is often regarded as one of the greatest classics is Science fiction cinema, the 1956 masterpiece “Forbidden Planet”. This is a film that ages really well, the set pieces and visual effects are beyond impressive, even to this day. You can really lose yourself with this films amazing look and of cores there’s Robbie the Robot, that alone makes it a classic. As for Leslie Nielsen, he’s so convincing in the role of Commander John J. Adams that it’s almost hard to believe that he became a comedian. It really makes you feel that he was meant to be a serious and dramatic actor. Actually, that’s how he started and was rather good in dramatic roles. In the 1972 classic “The Poseidon Adventure”, Nielsen gets a small role as the ship’s Captain but his performance is just as commanding as ever and it makes him one of the more memorable characters.
In 1980 his dramatic acting would make a flawless transition into comedy with the hilarious classic “Airplane!” Nielsen plays a terrific supporting character named Dr. Rumack who for the majority of the film is quiet and caring but Leslie brings such a subtle level of hummer to the role. No one can make the line “I am serious and don’t call me Shirley” as funny as him. If someone like Dom DeLuise or Jon Lovitz said that, they’d probably just joke about it but Leslie Nielsen delivers it and many of his lines in such a perfect monotone performance that it’s hysterical. There’s one scene when the lead character (Ted Striker) looses his confidence as a pilot and the speech that Nielsen gives him is such a perfect blend between subtly uplifting and humorous and that’s the strength of Leslie Nielsen in a nutshell.
In 1982, he made another surprise performance in the horror film “Creep show”. This was a very fun and interesting anthology film that comprised of 5 different scary stories and in one of them (titled “Something to Tide you Over”) Nielsen plays a vengeful mastermind. He learns his wife was cheating on him so he berries her and her lover neck deep on the beach as the tide comes in. It’s such a suspenseful seen and I never thought that Leslie Nielsen could be so frightening. The way he slowly, calmly talks to them and taunts them as they droned is very unsettling and it all goes to show how versatile Nielson can be. At one moment, he can be the funniest guy you ever saw and the next a genuinely terrifying, gun welding man looking for revenge.
But for me, the performance that really made me a fan of Leslie Nielsen is his portrayal of Lt. Frank Drebin form “The Naked Gun Series”. This is personally my favorite series of comedies that still manage to stay funny no matter how many times I watch them. But what really makes these films so great is Nielsen’s consistently great performance. You just look at his face and his many expressions and you bust a gut laughing. What I especially love about the way he brings his character to life is how he constantly looses track of the big picture and is always focused on the little things in front of him. A perfect example is a seen in the first movie, which is honestly one of my favorite moments of the whole series. He’s under cover, disguised as an umpire for a baseball team, is on the lookout for a ballplayer that’s suppose to be an assassin but while in disguise he begins to completely loose himself to how much fun it is to just shout “Strike 1!, Strike 2!, Strike 3!” and it becomes so much fun that it gets to the point of him showing off to the crowds and dancing, and the way he gradually looses himself in his own enjoyment is perfectly subtle and hilariously enjoyable. He manages to keep this character alive throughout all three movies, constantly funny and always focusing on the little thing while being completely oblivious to the whole picture.
Unfortunately like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nielsen’s film carrier took a big nose dive with some really bad movies like “Surf Ninjas”, “Mr. Magoo”, “Spy Hard” “Scary Movie 4” and “Super Hero Movie”. But to be fare, there was an actual effort from Nielsen to make some of these films decent. I felt like he gave a fairly good try as a loving Santa in the movie “All I want for Christmas” and I actually thought he made for a good comedic Dracula in the Mel Brooks stinker “Dracula Dead and Loving It”. Yes, that movie did fail to reach the comedic heights of the directors earlier success “Young Frankenstein” but I thought Leslie Nielsen was the perfect choice for the role and there was a genuine effort from him to make it funny. The climax was honestly an improvement over the original 1931 Dracula (staring Bela Lugosi) because they do actually battle him as opposed to just stabbing him while he was sleeping in his coffin.
But I think his best attempt at hummer in a bad film was his performance in “Scary Movie 3” as the president. Now I never liked any of the “Scary Movies” but off all of them, the one I disliked the least was “Scary Movie 3”. This one had some relatively funny moments, I liked a lot of the small background jokes like the woman walking through the heavily bared door and the farmer loading a shovel like a gun but the most memorable thing about the movie by far was of cores Nielson. It felt like a good part for him and it was very refreshing after how lousy some of his latter comedies were.
Well, despite how bad some of his latter movies got, he still remains one of my favorite actors. The comedic impact he made as well as his genuinely dramatic performances in his earlier films were so strong that I’m able to look over all the lousier films. It’s also admirable how even in his 80’s he still stuck to doing what he loved most and that was acting in movies, especially comedies. I always wanted to believe that he would star in one more really stirring film and give an amazing dramatic or funny performance to close his carrier but tragically on November 28th 2010 Leslie Nielsen passed away in his sleep due to complications from pneumonia, leaving a wonderful legacy behind him. But even at his death bed, he was able to go out with one last attempt at hummer by choosing "Let 'er Rip" as his epitaph (that’s the Greek word for “a funeral oration” and is a short text honoring a deceased person). Personally, there’s no better way to die then to be sounded by loved ones and Leslie Nielsen was one such person who was fortunate enough to have his friends and family with him to the end. So to close this tribute I find it only fitting to say, thanks for all the laughs and joy that you provided to so many people, may you rest in peace and always be remembered.
Leslie Nielsen born February 11th 1926 – Died November 28th 2010 (Age 84)