It’s… it’s… Frank! (RIP Leslie Nielsen)

Sad news, yesterday: Leslie Nielsen has died. It’s not really my habit to post tributes, but so much awesomeness can be associated with this great persona that I just had to dig into Youtube and the likes.

It’s 1956, and this is the first sci-fi movie where humans perform intergalactic travel, visit alien planets, re-enact Shakespeare dramas and drag talking automatons around that look like sophisticated vacuum cleaners – in other words, this movie was pioneering an entire popular genre! Note also the fantastic – and equally pioneering – electronic music by Louis and Bebe Barron.

In 1980 Leslie provided probably the most disparaging encouragement one can utter to a couple of pilots:

With it, and the entire Airplane! movie, a new comedy style is launched, ingeniously combining slapstick, verbal humor largely based on double entendres and malapropisms and of course Nielsen’s brilliant timing and priceless facial gymnastics.

With the evil geniuses Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker writing behind the scenes, Nielsen elevated his comedy to great heights of brilliance in the form of Detective-Lieutenant Frank Drebin, and the Police Squad series:

The early cancellation of this series may still stand as one of the most egregious displays of moronic decision making by network executives (another ‘successful’ trend on its own right, and many years before the Leno/Conan debacle for instance). Of course, the series spawned the Naked Gun movie trilogy, so not all was lost; au contraire:

The Oscar-ceremony scene in 33 1/3 where Frank creates havoc under the ‘disguise’ of Phil Donahue still stands as my personal favorite, though there are magnificent gems to be found throughout the entire trilogy. The movie series was imitated by many and followed by other films starring Nielsen in similar roles, mostly inferior to the original, but almost always containing a few real funny bits. A great talent, with an uncannily good sense of timing and a face sculpted-for-comedy has been lost; Frank/Leslie, we will miss you.

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