The Film: Top Secret (1984)
The Principles: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker(Directors), Val Kilmer, Peter Cushing, Lucy Gutteridge, Jermey Kemp, Omar Sharif
The Premise: A rock and roll star joins a Nazi resistance group and cows get involved somewhere.
Is It Good: By far my favorite Zucker Zucker Abrahams comedy. Even though a lot of people know about this film, this is still the least viewed of their films. The only one that may not be known as much is Kentucky Fried Movie . That cult classic may have been their first film, but this one introduced audiences to Val Kilmer.
The story doesn’t do much justice to the behind the camera comedy kings, but I’ll try to do a condensed summary. Val Kilmer is a North American rock n roll singer travelling to Germany to perform at a peace festival thrown by the Nazis. When he mistakenly kills a man during a penis jumping opera (if you have seen it, you know what I’m talking about, if not you need to see it) he gets thrown in jail with a captive scientist who developed a weapon to tip the scales in the Nazi regime’s favor. He escapes and winds up a third wheel in The Blue Lagoon with Déjà vu and Chocolate Mousse.
The strength that the filmmakers have always had was not in the main story but in the presentation. The jokes are thrown (sometimes literally) at the screen every 15 to 20 seconds. Some of the jokes stick and are hilarious and some of them fall wayside, or don’t even get noticed. The beauty of the Zucker Zucker Abrahams films is that every time you watch or rewatch one of their films, you can always find something new. My wife asked me a question this time while a newspaper was on the screen (in the middle of a song) and I found three more things I had never seen before, none of which could have been on the screen more than 1 second.
The acting does suffer at times. Val Kilmer’s lips often do not match up with the music, and some of the actors spit out their lines as if they were at a reading out loud class. That appears to be the only major fault, and why would you watch a film like this for the acting?
Is It Worth A Look: More than one. If you find it funny once, chances are, you will find it just as funny a second time but not because of the same jokes. If you enjoyed Airplane!, Naked Gun/Police Squad or Hot Shots and you haven’t seen this then you owe it to yourself to sit down and give it a watch.
The thing that separates it the most from the other films is the inclusion of music. This was at a time where Weird Al Yankovic was on the radio with Eat It and I lost at Jeopardy. The songs mimic Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys or they do a version of Tutti Frutti by Little Richard. The songs are catchy and fun and enhance the viewing. With the U.S. up in the air about gun control, what better than watching the video for Skeet Surfin.
The parody style displayed here is the thing that the Not Another ***** Movie movies have attempted to capture, but continue to fail miserably at. There are quite a few other film references contained within, some of which were current at the time ( E.T.), and some were not (Gone With the Wind ,Casablanca).
Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Mike Love(Beach Boys) and Chuck Berry worked alongside producer Mike Moran on many of the song parodies.
The bookstore scene with Pet Cushing is often talked about because the entire scene was filmed knowing they were going to play it backwards. It was a total of 88 seconds (the same backwards or forwards).
At one point a waiter asks for an order in Yiddish, the translation was actually “go take a shit in the ocean”.
The film came in under its 8 million dollar budget.
To get boots on the cow, bottomless boots were attached to its legs using Velcro.
Val Kilmer may not have always lip synced the best on screen, but he performed all his songs for the soundtrack using his character’s name (Nick Rivers, something his dad thought up while shaving).
The balcony scene where Lucy Gutteridge sees mice going between cars on a street was an actual street prop the directors found. It was originally used in Superman.
Val Kilmer was dating Cher when this film was made, and you can clearly see her headshot behind him when he is in jail.
This was the final American Production Peter Cushing appeared in.
Cinematic Soulmates: Spies Like Us, Airplane