If Airplane! is the Citizen Kane of parody movies, then Top Secret! has to be the Magnificent Ambersons of the genre. Top Secret!, for those of you who haven’t seen it (shame on you!) is a parody of both early rock n roll movies, specifically those starring Elvis, and World War II spy movies. It’s supposed to be taking place in 1984 (when it was shot), but East Germany resembles Nazi Germany, right down to the French resistance fighters encountered about half way through the film.
There are a ton of sight gags in the movie, half of which you’ll miss while laughing your way through the deadpan jokes slapped on with a trowel throughout the script. Even the cringe-worthy jokes, especially the one involving a “little horse,” will double you over.
I saw Top Secret! at the theater when it came out, I was in college at the time, and was stunned that there were so few people in the theater with me. It wasn’t a hit. I suppose no one had heard of Val Kilmer yet, but he was beside the point–though he was very good as a blonde Elvis stand-in, especially when singing such songs as “Skeet Surfin’!” and “Spend This Night With Me,” in which he makes several attempts at suicide on stage (gas oven, noose, railroad tracks) and is saved over and over by some Jordanaires-like back-up singers in plaid sport coats.
And then there are the Commie-Nazi’s. At the beginning, when a motorcycle messenger brings General Streck (played by Brit character actor Jeremy Kemp) a message that says that the British spy (played by Omar Sharif) has gotten away, he rubber-stamps the note with”FIND HIM AND KILL HIM.”
No, there is nothing subtle about this movie. That’s the point, really. That brings me back to my original point. In the oeuvre of Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons is almost always overlooked. It’s a fantastic movie, every bit as good as Citizen Kane. But when people speak of Welles, it’s Citizen Kane, Lady from Shanghai, Macbeth, Touch of Evil, and The Trial. With Zucker/Abrahams/Abrahams, it’s always Airplane! Naked Gun, Naked Gun 2 1/2, etc. What all the movies in this paragraph have is that touch of genius, of greatness. I think comedies are every bit as important as any other type of movie. If something makes you laugh, it has unlocked a bit of you buried inside, just like a great drama or thriller has.
And if you haven’t watched Top Secret!, for Jebus’s sake, get your ass over to Netflix right now and watch it: www.netflix.com/WiMovie/60023499. You’re welcome.