Tag Archives: Leslie Nielsen

How to Steal the World (1968, Sutton Roley)

It takes a long seventy-five minutes to get there, but How to Steal the World does have some good moments in its finale. World is a theatrical release of a “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” television two-parter. It leads to an often boring ninety minutes, which improves in the second half just for momentum’s sake, leading up to the finale’s potential pay-offs. Director Roley misses all that potential as he’s an astoundingly disinterested director. Some of the framing and composition issues are just because it’s for at most a twenty-three-inch television set, but a lot of it’s just Roley. He doesn’t care.

The film’s opening credits are over an action sequence. Peter Mark Richman’s bad guy escapes from Robert Vaughan and David McCallum. Richman escapes with Eleanor Parker’s help, something Vaughan and McCallum don’t notice. If Vaughan and McCallum are anything, they aren’t observant. They also don’t get much to do in World, supporting cast intrigue of mad scientist plotting and T.H.R.U.S.H. office sex dominates the first half of World.

Parker is cuckolding runaway U.N.C.L.E. agent Barry Sullivan with T.H.R.U.S.H. up-and-comer Richman. While everyone’s looking for Sullivan and the world’s greatest minds, Parker and Richman are hanging out at his office. They take turns lounging on the sofa after they have to close the blinds because they’re too rowdy. The best part is Parker’s wardrobe changes almost every scene during the sequence, implying it takes place over some time. Meaning she just spends her time hanging out with her global villain boytoy. It’s fun.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is doing his unit the seven thing (there are seven of these great minds). Sullivan’s kind of flimsy. He gets this second half subplot where he bickers a lot with his head of security, Leslie Nielsen. It should be better, given where writer Norman Hudis takes it in the end, but it’s not. Maybe it’s an issue related to the TV-to-movie conversion, since it’s not all Soley’s responsibility. Hudis’s script isn’t paced well in the first half.

Anyway, Albert Paulsen is better as the main mad scientist collaborator. He doesn’t get anything to do, but he finally gets to have a great moment where he and Sullivan slap each other’s hands in the finale. He’s also the way Hudis throws in the young lovers subplot. Inger Stratton is Paulsen’s daughter, Tony Bill is Dan O’Herlihy’s. O’Herlihy is one of the kidnapped scientists; Bill teams up with McCallum to get him back. Maybe the scene of Bill pointing a gun at McCallum and telling the secret agent he’s got a new partner played better on TV.

O’Herlihy is fine. Richman and Parker get to be kind of fun. Parker gets a little more to do because she’s grieving, confused wife–Vaughan and McCallum are investigating Sullivan’s disappearance; they, of course, miss all her suspicious behaviors. Stratton’s not good. Bill’s bad. Nielsen’s lacking. He has a handful of all right moments, but it doesn’t pay off. More because of Roley’s direction. He’s not just humorless, he’s anti-smile.

And he misses this amazing finish for Richman and Parker’s affair. Hudis seems to get it. Maybe not. TV two-parters aren’t features, after all.

The finale almost elevates World. It seems like it should, with opportunity after opportunity. It just never happens. It’s fortunate. A lot of the cast deserves better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sutton Roley; teleplay by Norman Hudis, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” developed by Sam Rolfe; director of photography, Robert B. Hauser; edited by Joseph Dervin and Harry V. Knapp; music by Richard Shores; produced by Anthony Spinner; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Barry Sullivan (Dr. Robert Kingsley), Eleanor Parker (Margitta Kingsley), Peter Mark Richman (Mr. Webb), Leslie Nielsen (Gen. Maximilian Harmon), Dan O’Herlihy (Prof. David Garrow), Tony Bill (Steven Garrow), Albert Paulsen (Dr. Kurt Erikson), Inger Stratton (Anna Erikson), and Leo G. Carroll (Alexander Waverly).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

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Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)

Creepshow is an homage to 1950s horror comic books. Director Romero and writer Stephen King go out of their way to make it feel like you’re reading one of those comics. It’s about the anticipation. The terror isn’t promised, it’s inevitable. So watching Creepshow is about waiting for the kicker. For the most part–and certainly from a technical standpoint–the film delivers. Romero has these hyper-realistic effects but this overly stylized photography. Red for dark rumblings, blue for immediate danger. Initially, it just seems like Michael Gornick’s photography is too crisp, but it turns out to be Romero’s enthusiasm for the project. Creepshow is good, wholesome scary fun. Just with patricide, cannibalism, monsters, bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

There are five stories in Creepshow. The longest runs thirty-five minutes and stars Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. It’s also where Creepshow loses its steam so I thought I’d cover it first. Weaver and Holbrook are college professors. Barbeau’s Holbrook’s cheap and unintellectual wife. Weaver is great, Holbrook is not. Barbeau tries but it’s a crap part. The segment cuts between Holbrook’s fantasizing about killing Barbeau and Weaver trying to contend with a monster. Real quick–Creepshow deals with its horror a little differently; Romero makes a monster movie. It’s very stylized, but it’s a monster movie. The scares have to do with the monsters themselves, not their actions. The monster design, from Tom Savini, and the monster actions, also Savini, are both great. Back to the segment. It’s great when it’s Weaver and janitor Don Keefer trying to figure out what’s in a crate. Once they find out, the problems start. It’s the least “comic book” of the segments and the one where Romero has the most trouble. It feels like a riff on a fifties sci-fi movie more than anything else. Holbrook doesn’t help things, of course.

Otherwise, the segments are pretty strong. Even the one where writer Stephen King plays a New England redneck is fine. Not because of King’s performance–he’s terrible–but because of Savini’s effects and Romero’s direction. Great editing on the segment from Pasquale Buba too.

The best segment is probably the one with Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Gaylen Ross. It’s the third one in the film, after Romero, King and Gornick have established the film’s style and its devices. It’s the most comfortable mix of horror film and horror comic book. Danson’s sleeping with Ross, who’s Nielsen’s wife. Nielsen decides to torture Danson. Complications and some extravagant effects work ensue. Romero’s clearly enthusiastic about the effects work in Creepshow. He wants to showcase it and to present it properly, which requires a lot of technical ingenuity. There’s some excellent filmmaking in Creepshow.

The first segment in the film, with Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook and Elizabeth Regan, has a lot of excellent filmmaking too. Romero mixes a lot of horror standards–particularly the old dark house–to create a really effective opener to the film. Now, the film already has had a prologue with Tom Atkins as a crappy dad throwing up his kid’s Creepshow comic, so the first actual story segment just goes to establish Romero and King know what they’re doing.

Heck, they can even get past King’s acting in the second segment.

The last segment has E.G. Marshall as a recluse, germ-phobe capitalist fighting a cockroach infestation. Marshall is great, the cockroaches are gross and effective, but it lacks the energy to jumpstart Creepshow after the Weaver segment.

There’s a lot of good acting. Weaver, Nielsen, Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Danson, Keefer (whose mild doofus suggests just how good the one with King acting could have been with a better actor).

Solid music from John Harrison. It gets a little much at times, but it’s solid.

Creepshow is a lot of fun. Except when Romero and King forget they’re supposed to be having fun and subject the film to way too much whiney Hal Holbrook and harpy Adrienne Barbeau.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George A. Romero; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Michael Gornick; edited by Michael Spolan, Romero, Pasquale Buba and Paul Hirsch; music by John Harrison; production designer, Cletus Anderson; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson) and E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt).


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The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988, David Zucker)

Oh, okay… it’s less than ninety minutes. I was wondering why The Naked Gun felt so fast. It’s because it’s short.

That observation isn’t a negative one—the film is a constant delight, with Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker (and Pat Proft) coming up with a good laugh or gag every thirty to forty seconds. Someone should sit down and figure out how the humor’s paced. Some of the gags get amusing because they keep them up (Leslie Nielsen being a terrible driver) as opposed to being particularly original, but then there are these fantastic inventive gags….

About halfway through, I realized Zucker (the directing Zucker) let the camera sit on his actors. His composition isn’t great—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly dynamic—but his direction is excellent. He has these long shots in this one exchange between Nielsen and Ricardo Montalban where he holds the shots to give each of them the maximum opportunity. While Nielsen’s amazing—his performance in Gun is sometimes unbelievably good, he even holds it up as the script’s approach shifts (from other people realizing he’s a dimwit to the film’s reality being slightly conked)—Montalban is great too. Zucker gives his best actors—Nielsen (obviously), Montalban and George Kennedy their own segments. Montalban and Kennedy’s both involve food.

Unfortunately, even though she’s not bad, Priscilla Presley is out of her league acting-wise.

Nancy Marchand is excellent in a smaller role and John Houseman’s cameo is wonderful.

The Naked Gun is a superb comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Zucker; screenplay by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Pat Proft, based on a television series created by Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Michael Jablow; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Leslie Nielsen (Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), Ricardo Montalban (Vincent Ludwig), George Kennedy (Ed Hocken), O.J. Simpson (Nordberg), Susan Beaubian (Mrs. Nordberg), Raye Birk (Pahpshmir), Jeannette Charles (Queen Elizabeth II), Ed Williams (Ted Olsen), Tiny Ron (Al) and Nancy Marchand as The Mayor.


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The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991, David Zucker)

Watching The Naked Gun 2½, its’s almost immediate clear the missing Z-A or is it A-Z (being Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) are the ones who made the first film funny. They don’t contribute to this one’s script—instead it’s just the other Z, David Zucker (who also directs) and Pat Proft. The script is so 1991 topical it’s painful… and it’s lame too.

The topical stuff—George H.W. Bush is a character (being the president and all) and there’s a lot about the Democratic Party being in trouble—would probably be funny on a sitcom. Or maybe on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch (why they didn’t get Dana Carvey is beyond me). Then there’s some stuff about evil energy companies. That aspect is still topical, I suppose.

Particularly stupid is the film taking place in Washington, D.C. They explain Leslie Nielsen is just visiting from Los Angeles, but apparently George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson transferred.

Nielsen’s able to keep it together, even though the script only gives him a good laugh every three minutes (instead of every thirty seconds like the original), but Kennedy looks exhausted. Simpson’s good. Priscilla Presley is weak too (Zucker and Proft break her and Nielsen up off screen so they can reunite in the story—awful decision). Robert Goulet’s awful.

The film also has a stupid female police commissioner character just like the first one. It’s a subtle bit of misogyny.

The jokes occasionally work, but it’s a lukewarm, lousy sequel.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Zucker; screenplay by David Zucker and Pat Proft, based on a television series by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Christopher Greenbury and James R. Symons; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Leslie Nielsen (Det. Lt. Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), George Kennedy (Det. Captain Ed Hocken), O.J. Simpson (Det. Nordberg), Robert Goulet (Quentin Hapsburg), Richard Griffiths (Dr. Albert S. Meinheimer / Earl Hacker) and Jacqueline Brookes (Commissioner Anabell Brumford).


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