Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Leslie Nielsen: 1926-2010
I wasn't born when "Airplane!" came out, but I wish I was. I wish I was old enough back then to see the film, knowing who Leslie Nielsen was at the time. Watching the film, then suddenly seeing Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack popping up and subsequently stealing the film with his pitch perfect comic delivery. Before that film, Leslie Nielsen was known as a dramatic actor. Before Airplane, he was probably most known for starring in the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet" as well as other serious dramatic films in the 1950s. To see him play Dr. Rumack in the delightfully goofy "Airplane!," I'm sure knowing who he was at the time would've added even more to my laughter.
As it stands, I see Leslie Nielsen the way most of America sees him: one of the funniest, silliest, greatest slapstick comedians during the '80s and '90s. The one who seemed like he would forever remain the hapless, incompetent old man that we all found ourselves watching. Watch The Naked Gun movies again. The man was 64 years old when the first Naked Gun film came out and he was almost 70 when the last one came out. Sure, he most certainly had the help of white-wigged stunt doubles, but he still made all of his pitfalls look completely believable. Think about what a rarity it was for someone like him to exist in the movie business. Has there ever really been anyone like him in movie history? A young dramatic actor turning into an old buffoon? Could you imagine that being Christian Bale or Leonardo Dicaprio 30 years from now? I don't think so. In the '80s and '90s, if you wanted to laugh, you could always count on Leslie Nielsen.
The Zucker brothers should've felt completely indebted to him. As skilled as they were, it takes an actor of high caliber to remain the star of a film that contains so many different sight gags. Think of all the jokes the Zucker brothers fit into their Airplane and Naked Gun films, Leslie Nielsen towered above them all. He was also the main reason why those spoof movies were so funny. Nowadays, all spoof movies suck and they suck horribly. Leslie Nielsen was the sole saving grace of the last few Scary Movies. Those guys behind Epic Movie and Disaster Movie have since killed what used to be such a great genre with Leslie Nielsen being the face of them all. Sure, Charlie Sheen proved to be a worthy challenger in the Hot Shots films (which I feel are both underrated, but not as funny as the first two Naked Gun films), but Leslie Nielsen had an air of believability in him that other actors could never imitate. You believed he could be a doctor, or a detective, or even the President. No matter how many times he proved to be incompetent and perhaps even unintelligent, you always believed he belonged in the police force. He wasn't just some actor trying to imitate a doctor or a policeman. He WAS Frank Drebin and Dr. Rumack.
While we all more-or-less expected that Leslie Nielsen's time was running out in this world, I don't think any of us really thought it would happen. My generation grew up with him being old. He was always old to me, but his films and his performances always felt fresh to me. Sometimes I thought he may be a 30 year old inside a 70 year old's body, there's no way that guy could be someone's grandad! So obviously Leslie Nielsen's death isn't a shocker, but it most definitely hits home for me. I grew up watching him, I'm sure most of you reading this also grew up watching him. He was part of the foundation for my sense of humor. The film world would not have been the same without him.
So, Lt. Drebin, I salute you. May you rest in peace. At least the roads will be safer without you.