Airplane!

A serious remake of Bartlett’s Zero Hour!, updated to six years after a Barbary Coast jet raid on Daiquiri from Drambuie, with exactly the same moral position and problems but played strictly for laughs, as in Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

The effect is of a curious translation with a constant analysis, as every sequence is embellished with joke material.

Circumstances beat the raid, lives were lost, but the secondary satire of Airport etc. points up the initial inspiration.

 

A Substantial Gift
Police Squad!

This is the famous oyster joke about the law courts, a shell for each party to a suit and the rest up the middle, as it were.

The progressive revelation of the villainess, just before the final shootout, is one of those Dalian feats that characterize the series (cp. the tuba search in “The Butler Did It”).

 

Top Secret!

The probity of those music critics who scrutinize every nuance of a pop album like Talmudists for the mysterious essence of its effusions is mainly satirized. The great cultural mission of rock ‘n’ roll is sent up for the camera.

East Germany is peopled by Nazis whose slogan is Better Government Through Intimidation. An official telegram informing General Streck (Jeremy Kemp) that a foreign agent has entered the country is stamped by him with red ink: Find Him and Kill Him. Everybody reads The Daily Oppressor.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is topping the charts with “Skeetin’ U.S.A.”, a song about shooting skeet on a surfboard.

The directors know when precisely precision is called for, and when to let well enough alone. When Nick (or NEEK as they call him on hand-painted signs) performs la Elvis for a theater filled with teenaged East German girls, his complex gyrations eventually become a nimble satire of James Brown “expiring with love,” but the camera shows the girls one after another just screaming ecstatically, it might be documentary footage. One girl licks her lips, however, in a calm signature on the scene.

Lucy Gutteridge has completely succeeded with this material. She has been compared to Donna Reed and Ingrid Bergman, but she looks like Patricia Barry with an absence of any disbelief whatsoever. Everything in her performance is so accurate (except the difficult art of listening to Kilmer sing “Shop at Macy’s, and love me tonight”—she blushes like Duse) that the directors finally have her breasts light up the screen.

The best ballet parody has Eleanor Antin in a tutu caressing a swan’s neck sprung from her partner’s trunks, and the ballet sequence here follows suit. One may wonder, however, what use there is in satire, if thirty years after Monty Python TV reporters still do “walkie-talkies,” and twenty years after Top Secret! dancers in leading ballet companies still pad the crotch and wedge the tights to make a grinning impression.

The scene in Swedish (filmed in reverse, with Peter Cushing) and the underwater saloon fight are justly celebrated. The Blue Lagoon gets more than it deserves, perhaps.