Illustration: Adeline Pericart
It was Clubber Lang who first uttered the immortal words ‘I pity the fool’ when asked if he hated Rocky Balboa by an intrepid journalist seeking to hype up thier impending meeting in the ring. In honour of April we here at Film Ireland challenge Clubber Lang and propose to ‘praise the fool’.
Now bring on the jesters…
Frank Drebin in Police Squad & The Naked Gun
Who has the best face? Now there’s a question. You’re probably tempted to gush the name of some particularly beautiful person: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde. Even the more mature among us might suggest Sean Connery or Marilyn Monroe.
But really think about it; the best face…
No-one ever picks Leslie Nielsen. But you should because the truth is, the truth mind you, is he had the ideal face. Think back, scour you memories. Has ever a set of expressive, rubbery, yet profoundly human features brought such joy and mirth to your soul as the late Mr Nielsen’s?
A serious, dramatic actor for the guts of his career, it wasn’t really until 1980’s , Airplane that the world was graced with Nielsen’s trademark tomfoolery. Revealed to be less of a man, more perhaps an otherworldly force of unrivalled deadpan hilarity, he confounded circumstantial absurdity with a straight-faced sincerity which quickly saw him become a household name. Arguably the man was the very face of humour.
And despite some questionable film choices in his later life, Nielson tackled everything, no matter how minor the role, how poor the film, with a certain vigour and willingness. No matter the rough, Nielsen was ever the diamond. But 26 years of nostalgia and bias aside, two simple words should be enough to cement this man in our minds as the very epitome of comedy. The first word is Frank.
The second is Drebin.
Both Police Squad and the Naked Gun trilogy are timeless experiences, replete with visual gags, clever wordplay, unlikely scenarios, recurring jokes and interlinking antics. Be assured if Nielsen doesn’t slay you with one gag, never fear, there’ll be another along in about 6 seconds to finish the job. I’ll freely admit The Naked Gun 2&½ is my favourite film, bar none. And I prefer my films filled with explosions and fistfights rather than joy and laughter. Nielsen’s that affecting.
It’s said (by people who know such things, presumably) that if you want the measure of an actor, get him to play comedy, force him to make a fool of himself. By this criterion, the late Leslie Nielsen was easily among the finest of performers. And despite the comedy, the laughter and the wit, it would never be so funny without the empathy for his character: The humanity in his face.
Leslie Nielson wore the best face.
It made me laugh.