‘The Naked Gun’ and its sequels rank among the world’s best-loved comedy movies. And over 3 decades on from the first chapter, those side-splitters still hold some surprises!
Here are 10 funny and fascinating facts about the chaotic world of Leslie Nielsen’s Lt Frank Drebin…
10. It wasn’t originally called The Naked Gun
The movie was based on short-lived TV spoof ‘Police Squad!’. Created by David and Jerry Zucker with Jim Abraham in 1982, it showcased Nielsen’s comedy chops – the team first worked with him on ‘Airplane!’ 2 years earlier.
It made sense to call the film ‘Police Squad!’ but there was one snag – ‘Police Academy’! The box office-butt kicker had cornered the market with a similar title. Ironically, ‘Naked Gun’ writer Pat Proft was responsible for co-writing the original movie in that series.
The studio opted for something more original, though it was one idea of many. “The Naked Gun was chosen from a list of 20 other possible titles which the creative team came up with” writes the 80s Kids website.
Sub-title ‘From The Files Of Police Squad!’ ensured a connection with the small screen. Then in 1994 ‘Naked Gun 33 1⁄3’ had a name change, from ‘Just for the Record’ – geddit? – to ‘The Final Insult’. Bizarrely defeating the object of using ‘33 1⁄3’ in the first place…!
9. It was hard work
They say comedy is a serious business… certainly true in the case of ‘Naked Gun’! Multiple takes were shot to burrow to the heart of the humor.
Speaking to Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2011, star and veteran actor George Kennedy explained: “if I tell you a short joke and you laugh, you are laughing at the joke as we see it in the movies. You see it once. But, believe me, if you tell a joke 40 times in front of a camera, it isn’t necessarily even funny anymore. It is painful.”
Kennedy reportedly enjoyed filming the franchise. But he could have done without that part of the process…!
8. Mel Brooks gave them a gag
A moment where Drebin poses as a baseball umpire sees the hapless detective stand too close to the catcher. He’s then struck in the head by the bat.
Where did that laugh come from? None other than comedic powerhouse Mel Brooks. 7 years later Nielsen returned the favor, teaming up with Brooks for ‘Dracula: Dead and Loving It’.
7. Ricardo Montalbán had a joke removed
Mel Brooks added a joke. ‘Naked Gun’ villain Ricardo Montalbán deleted another. A throwaway funny about a hospital called “Our Lady Who Never Got The Pickle” offended the star’s Roman Catholic sensibilities.
Not only did she not get the pickle, the audience never saw the name in the first place.
6. It’s John Houseman’s final film
Star of stage and screen John Houseman had been working since 1930. His early career saw him working with Orson Welles, and he also became a noted producer.
1988 was a bumper comedy year for Houseman. He worked with Woody Allen on ‘Another Woman’. Bill Murray Christmas romp ‘Scrooged’ came next. Finally he landed on Frank Drebin’s patch.
His memorable cameo as a driving instructor raised some laughs. Sadly it was his last ever appearance on the big screen…
5. 1988 was the year of steamroller deaths at the movies
While cinemagoers had their ribs tickled toward the end of the ‘80s, they might have noticed a strange and disturbing pattern. Movie characters were having their ribs (and everything else) squashed by steamrollers! Montalbán’s fiendish adversary Vincent Ludwig met his end under just such a vehicle, part of a spectacular and elaborate death scene.
“No doubt the makers of The Naked Gun felt they had hit upon a uniquely ridiculous fate for their antagonist” remarks 80s Kids. Unfortunately, Christopher Lloyd and Kevin Kline suffered the same treatment in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ and ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ respectively…
4. There’s a new Drebin in town?
Could anyone replace the incomparable Leslie Nielsen? Absolutely not, though it won’t stop producers giving it a shot. Talk of Ed Helms (‘The Hangover’) inheriting the mantle fizzled out. But in 2018 David Zucker outlined his plans for what is effectively ‘Son of Naked Gun’.
“Drebin’s son is recruited by the CIA to be a decoy and try to take down the Russian crime lord” he said, quoted by Little White Lies. “He flies to Europe and it becomes a spoof on The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible and James Bond.”
Zucker mentioned Bill Hader as a possible shoe-filler for the role. Will Drebin Jr live up to the raucous reputation of his father? Watch this space…
3. Priscilla Presley wasn’t the first choice
Priscilla Presley played Drebin’s likeable love interest Jane Spencer. Yet she only won the role after original pick Bo Derek wasn’t considered bankable enough.
Blake Edwards’ ‘10’ made Derek’s name in 1979. However her subsequent movies hadn’t caught the public’s imagination. “Such films as Fantasies, Tarzan the Ape Man and Bolero traded heavily on her sex appeal,” notes 80 Kids, “but bombed critically and commercially.”
Derek had already played a Jane in 1981’s ‘Tarzan’, but it wasn’t a case of second time lucky. Just as Nielsen delivered absurdity with a straight face, so Presley got the part due to her serious acting background…
2. Annie Leibovitz sued Paramount over the third film
‘Naked Gun 33 1⁄3 ’ producers figured it would a great idea to publicize the third movie in typically off the wall fashion. They promptly spoofed Demi Moore’s naked shoot for ‘Vanity Fair’ from 1991.
Leslie Nielsen lent his features to an amusing – yet alarming – take-off via advertising agency Dazu Inc. As the Film Suits site puts it: “The composite photograph depicting Nielsen as the pregnant Moore slyly proclaimed, ‘DUE THIS MARCH.’”
When Moore’s photographer Annie Leibovitz saw the result, she was far from impressed and took Paramount to court. The ruling went against her – the judge said the parody image was entitled to protection under “the fair use defense”…
1. Leslie Nielsen’s funeral featured the theme music
In 2010 ‘Naked Gun’ icon Nielsen passed away, aged 84. The role of Frank Drebin had given his career a new lease of life. He went from intrepid space explorer in ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) to a comedy star who infamously deployed a ‘fart’ machine during talk show interviews.
Another Article From Us: Walmart Is Turning 160 of Its Parking Lots into Drive-In Movie Theaters
Nielsen clearly had a blast. When his funeral was held, there was really only one piece of music to play… Ira Newborn’s unmistakeable theme music! Together with epitath “Let ‘er rip”, it closed the book on Drebin’s adventures in style…