Thursday, 2 December 2010

Farewell, Frank Drebin

I was very sad this week to learn of the death of Leslie Nielsen, one of my all time favourite comic actors. I vividly remember going to see Airplane! when it came out in 1980. I was staying at my sister's in London and the film was getting such rave reviews the cinema was packed out - not typical of the time, I think it was the first time I'd been in a full house. Well, from start to finish the audience were roaring with laughter so much you missed half the jokes, but we couldn't wait to go and see it again. Since then I must have watched it a hundred times and it still cheers me up when I'm down.

We put the DVD on the other night and watched the director's commentary with David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and producer Jon Davison. One great feature of DVD releases is the director's commentary - I find them very instructive about what changes were made and why, a great help with editing any story. This particular one was no less instructive. Firstly it was obvious what a fun group of people they were and what a joy it would have been to work with them; they laughed constantly through the film, recounting funny episodes and making fun of themselves in the process. The film took years to write and get made. It's a long slow process to get a film into production, and it could easily have worn them down, but there was no sign of it in their version of events. And I think it's their abundant joy that is the secret of Airplane!'s success. It's playful and silly, and we all need more of that in our lives.

And that is why I'll miss Leslie Nielson, who went on to make the Naked Gun films with the Zucker/Abrahams team, not to mention a long list of other spoofs. His bumbling hero always raised a smile. Wherever he is now, I bet he's making people laugh.

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