Dir: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, 1984
Following the smash success of Airplane! and the criminally overlooked TV show Police Squad! (what is it, about exclamation marks, they love so much?), the filmmaking team of the brothers Zucker and their old friend Abrahams returned to the big screen with a rip roaring spoof of Elvis Presley musicals, spy films and war movies.
American Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is the biggest singing sensation of the world.
On tour in Germany during an unspecified war, Rivers gets caught up with the French resistance while trying to save himself from the German government.
Top Secret! begins so brilliantly and hysterically funny that it continues to keep the laughs flowing…until the second half.
Then they run out of ideas and jokes.
Some jokes in this are funnier than those in Airplane! but it can’t go the length. There are still gags that make you laugh out loud but they’re few and far between.
The ZAZ trio have plenty of ideas but can’t work much humour out of them, instead relying on extended set pieces that aren’t all that great.
A bigger budget allowed them to be a bit more adventurous but, here, it doesn’t pay off. An underwater fight in a saloon is a good example of the boys being too ambitious.
Top Secret! shows some genuine inspired moments of lunacy, that are still incredibly hard to top. Peter Cushing’s cameo as a Swedish bookseller is an amazing piece of filmmaking.
Filmed entirely backwards, the scene deserves praise for its excellent choreography abd the effort that went into creating a fine moment of cinema that has, yet, to be beaten.
Awarded the luxury of stars with a status, the directors were able to rope in Omar Sharif, in a role a million miles away from Dr. Zhivago and a lot funnier.
Filmed in Britain, a troupe of highly regarded actors, from stage and screen, are cast and do a wonderful job, clearly showing that they get the joke.
Warren Clarke, Jeremy Kemp, Michael Gough and Jim Carter all take their role seriously adding copious amounts of fuel to the fire of fun.
As with all spoof films, many of the references are dated and new viewers won’t get them. Christopher Villiers and Lucy Gutteridge taking off Brooke Shields’ The Blue Lagoon might go over the heads of today’s generation, as would the joke about the Ford Pinto bursting into flames.
The humour is, at times, a tad more scatological, but it doesn’t harm the film. Often cruder than the team’s preceding film, it has some gut-bustingly funny bits, especially the scene involving Villiers in the back end of a pantomime cow costume and a calf believing the udders are real.
Being a send up of Presley movies, the soundtrack has several musical numbers, performed by Kilmer. Aside from Tutti Fruti (an hilarious scene, with Kilmer doing fantastic), the film has several catchy and original songs, courtesy of Maurice Jarr and the ZAZ team. Created as soundalikes, the tunes send up surf music, rock ‘n’ roll and slow ballads, the best of which is Skeet Surfin’, a Beach Boys-type song where people shoot clay pigeon while surfing.
Made in 1984, the film found itself in that difficult place of which rating to give it. Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins, there is material that’s too strong for the ‘PG’ it was given in the US, but not strong enough for an ‘R’.
Britain was more sensible and stamped the film with an uncut ’15’ certificate but, sadly, all common sense went out of the window when it came to certifying the video.
A few seconds was cut to remove the shot Rivers’ agent, Martin (Billy J. Mitchell), holding the sex implement. Even after the cut, it was approved with a ’15’ certificate, just like its UNCUT cinema showing. Pratts!
It was shown uncensored on its debut on ITV and has been released in its entirety on DVD.
In many ways, the humour is sillier than Airplane!, with the cow wearing rubber boots being a highlight.
Well worth a visit, Top Secret! is a fun, silly movie that will keep you entertained for the majority of the running time