Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers broke into the movie business in 1980 with the amazing Airplane!, a brilliant and hilarious comedy that explored the comic side of the disaster movies that were so fashionable in the seventies (such as the four films of the Airport saga released in 1970, 1974, 1977 and 1979). I remember having seen that film several times as a child, but I had never seen their second film: Top Secret!, released in 1984. This time, the target of the parody is the war and espionage genre, but in fact romantic and musical films are also thrown in the mix(er). Needless to say, I enjoyed myself so much, I laughed from start to finish!
The protagonist of the movie is a very young Val Kilmer here at his debut in a role for which he was perfectly cast: that of an American rock star, Nick Rivers, an Elvis Prestley-type of singer who becomes a hero of the Resistance in East Germany during the Cold war, an East Germany that in reality is simply portrayed as Nazi Germany of World War II. In his adventure, Nick meets the beautiful Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge), he faces the evil German generals and colonels (Jeremy Kemp and Warren Clarke), he join the French (for some strange reason!) Resistance fighters led by the blond Nigel (Christopher Villiers), and he saves Hillary’s father, the scientist Dr. Flammond (Michael Gough, also Alfred in Tim Burton’s Batman). The strength of the film lies in the plot which uses all the classic clichés of the genre (the imprisonment and torture of the hero, the escape from prison, the release of the scientist forced to work for the bad guys, betrayed spies, a love story…) and in the fact that all the scenes are irresistibly comical even today, 35 years later. Yes, maybe some references are a bit difficult to grasp now, but the film’s comic potential goes far beyond referring to existing films and characters!
Differently from Airplane!, the list of cameos is very limited. Essentially, there are only two: Omar Sharif playing an English spy and Peter Cushing playing a Swedish book seller and Resistance sympathizer. The scenes of Sharif on the running train, talking with the souvenir seller, and his unexpected return to Hillary are nothing short of amazing. And the scene with Peter Cushing and his magnifying glass (taken from his 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein) is simply brilliant. Everybody knows that Swedish is a difficult language to understand!
But the whole film is a sequence of brilliant scenes one after the other. The serious dialogues with nonsensical sketches in the background (think of those in the pizzeria, or in the park with the pigeon statue), the straight faces with which the actors manage to say their silly lines, and an endless series of brilliant gags: bicycles that behave like horses, the slow firing squad, the anal intruder (!), the moving train station, the Germans who speak Yiddish (the language of the Ashkenazi Jews: the three movie’s directors are Jews), the partisan Latrine who’s always on the verge of dying, the mine attracting submarines, the shootout used to play tris in the windows, everything that can happen to an undercover cow, the extended mockery of The Blue Lagoon (1980) as well as those of countless other films like Casablanca and Elvis’s musical films, and even television series like M.A.S.H.…
In short, this movie equals to ninety minutes of laughter (even during the end credits)! I keep wondering why I haven’t discovered this film before and I’m looking forward to seeing it again and again to appreciate it even more, there are surely too many sketches and gags to get with only one vision ! Ciao!