« Mark Wahlberg is still cool | Home | Mark Ruffalo, our fracking hero »

November 29, 2010


Surely Leslie Nielsen was one of the great ones

Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!

Leslie Nielsen is the inventor of contemporary deadpan. Without Leslie Nielsen and his straight man shtick, we would have no Bill Murray or any of Jason Bateman's or Michael Cera's good lines in "Arrested Development". I might be over-stepping here, but without Leslie Nielsen, I'm not sure we would have William Shatner as we know him today.

Both Shatner and Nielsen are Canadians who transitioned from the sci-fi and disaster genre into the kind of parody/self-parody that is so perfectly transparent, it's hard to tell if they're actually doing anything at all. Nielsen is more of a minimalist, but so good at his particular style of straight-faced slapstick that he's basically done exactly the same thing in every movie post-Airplane! and it is always hilarious.

Like everyone, I saw Airplane! at age 10 or so, and it's still the funniest movie I've ever seen (apart from a brief period around 1990 when I decided The Naked Gun was funnier.) Only recently did I happen to catch the 1957 movie that Airplane! is based on, Zero Hour!, which is so close to Airplane! than a lot of the dialogue was lifted directly from the original, including the "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking" line.

There's also this one from Zero Hour!:

"The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner."

I have no idea how you make a line like that as funny as Leslie Nielsen did in Airplane!. It's not funny in the original. It's not even a joke. He's a genius.

Here's the Times obituary, and a collection of his movie clips.

categories: Celebrities, Movies
posted by amy at 11:34 AM | #

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


William Shatner's debt to Leslie Nielsen is less of a stretch than you may realize- many have made the case that it was actually in the (Leslie Nielsen-less) 'Airplane II' that Shatner as Buck Murdock truly committed to what was to become his later persona as 'the Shat', years before the Priceline ads:


Posted by: ooghe at November 30, 2010 3:24 PM

Good point! Also, I just noticed that the same year 'Airplane II' came out (1982) Shatner had a role in one of the 'Police Squad!' episodes as "Poisoned Man".


It's like he took Nielsen's understated deadpan slapstick routine, then added 10,000 tons of ham.

Posted by: amy at November 30, 2010 3:36 PM

hmmm... also, Star Trek itself was based on Forbidden Planet, I might add.

Posted by: ooghe at November 30, 2010 3:54 PM

Now I really want to see Zero Hour, just to see how the line about having fish for dinner could be made unfunny.

Posted by: T-Rock at December 2, 2010 11:41 AM

There's no way to erase Airplane! from your mind while watching Zero Hour! Except in Zero Hour, no one is aware they're in a comedy. It might be marginally funnier.

Posted by: amy at December 2, 2010 12:01 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)