Where does one even begin with a tribute to absolute master-craftsman Leslie Nielsen? Probably with an opening paragraph. Leslie Nielsen was a brilliant actor. He began his career playing very specific serious genre roles, and launched himself into superstardom parodying those exact parts with the most dead-on satirical accuracy the medium has ever seen. You may think I’m being hyperbolic here, but surely I’m not. Nielsen was as in touch with the nuances of genre-pictures enough to make the most absurd exaggeration seem subtle and deliver a hearty belly-laugh in kids aged one to 92.
As a product of the 80s, I can’t be alone in having many of my first comedy memories being glimpses of Nielsen in his many endlessly-rewatchable classics. The steam-roller gag from the ending of the first Naked Gun is my earliest recollection of slapstick comedy. I fondly remember its sequels as being the movies that delighted both my grandparents and I on days I was home sick from school. I even vividly recall Easter weekend 1996 when my Dad thought I was finally old enough to appreciate the Airplane movies and we watched them both over a weekend where I first discovered quoting something that makes one laugh will make one laugh once again.
But along with Nielsen’s celebrated classics, there’s even something endearing about his performances in his lesser films. No matter what the material he was laced with, he always gave it his all to get as many laughs as possible. Even working lowbrow, the man was nothing short of a class act to the very end. One of the best to ever to do it, he leaves behind a rightfully celebrated legacy whose complexities and endless re-playability will ensure his body of work will be around forever.
And now, my favorite Nielsen-isms:
“Who are you and how did you get in here?” – “I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.”
“What was it we had for dinner tonight?” “Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.” “Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.”
“Women and me are like water and fire: wet and flammable.”
“Don’t move. I’ve got a gun. Not here, but I got one.”
“Your lies are like bananas. They come in big yellow bunches.”
“We can go away right now. I pack light. Everything we need is right here in my pants.”
“When you shot me at point blank range, I knew you loved me.”
“The Beatles said it best…’She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’.”
“It’s true what they say: Cops and women don’t mix. It’s like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it’ll clean you out, but it’ll leave you hollow inside.”
“It’s a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!”
“I’d known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She’d hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don’t recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.”
“Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.”
“Like a blind man at an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way through.”
“Kinky. But I like my sex the way I play basketball, one on one with as little dribbling as possible.”
“Hey! You call this slop? Real slop has got chunks in it! This is more like gruel! And this Château le Blanc ’68 is supposed to be served slightly chilled! This is room temperature! What do you think we are, animals?”
“I’m sorry I can’t be more optimistic, Doctor, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. It’s like having sex. It’s a painstaking and arduous task that seems to go on and on forever, and just when you think things are going your way, nothing happens.”
“Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?” “He’s Caucasian.” “Caucasian?” “Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.” “Awfully big moustache.”
“I see a lot of familiar face-lifts.”
“I want a world where Frank junior and all the Frank juniors can sit under a shady tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-11 without an interpreter.”
“I’m single! I love being single! I haven’t had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!”
“I couldn’t believe it was her. It was like a dream. But there she was, just as I remembered her. That delicately beautiful face. And a body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. And breasts that seemed to say…’Hey! Look at these!’ She was the kind of woman who made you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were a man! She reminded me of my mother, all right. No doubt about it.”
“You spend every possible waking moment together, while I’m out running around with a bunch of twenty year olds who only want a good time and cheap sex sex sex. Girls who can’t say no. Girls who can’t get enough. ‘More, more, more. It’s your turn now to wear the handcuffs’…”
“Looks like the cows have come home to roost.”
“This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you wanna do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!”
“There, there. You had no way of knowing the man you were dating was a vicious, murdering sociopath.”
“A parachute not opening… that’s a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine… having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that’s the way I wanna go!”
“I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to fill out those organ donor cards.”
We give Leslie Nielsen a Five Out of Five
So until next time… let’s agree to agree!