Monday, November 29, 2010

And Don't Call Me Shirley

There's a movie from 1957 called "Zero Hour" that starred Dana Andrews as a former World War II pilot who had a bit of a lapse during a key moment and as a result six men were killed. Since then, he's lived with the guilt, and it's affected every aspect of his life.

Now it's 12 years after the war, and Andrews hasn't been on a plane since. This time, though, he's flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver to try to keep his wife from leaving him, only the plane is flying through bad weather and the pilot and co-pilot, as well as others on the plane, have gotten food poisoning from eating bad fish.

As an aside, if your choice is flying the plane with a bad stomach ache or crashing, TigerBlog would hope that the average pilot would chose the stomach ache.

Anyway, Andrews takes the controls, flies through the storm and lands the planes safely, saving the day and turning his life around.

Oh, and his character's name? Ted Stryker.

TigerBlog saw the movie "Airplane" in the movies in 1980 when it came out and about 100 times since. He never knew that it was based on "Zero Hour," in some cases word-for-word, until he saw the older movie on TCM one day a year or so ago.

Watching "Zero Hour," TB couldn't help but laugh, not at the movie but about how "Airplane" turned it into such an epic, legendary comedy using many of the same lines of dialog, including the one spoken by the doctor who happened to be on board in both movies:

"The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner.“

In the first movie, it's a corny line. In "Airplane," when spoken by Leslie Nielsen, it's hilarious.

And in fact, it's not nearly the funniest thing Nielsen says in the movie. It's probably not in the top 10.

Somehow, TigerBlog didn't hear until this morning that Nielsen had passed away yesterday, at the age of 84, after suffering from pneumonia.

By the time he found out about Nielsen, he'd already written 235 words of what was going to be today's entry, which instead gives TB a 235-word head start on tomorrow's entry.

Instead, today has to be about Leslie Nielsen, a complex actor who spent decades doing dramatic roles before exploding as a comedic actor in "Airplane" and then in "The Naked Gun" series.

TB remembers watching an episode of "Columbo," where Nielsen plays the boyfriend of a woman who kills her brother after the brother tries to stop her from seeing Nielsen. As with all "Columbo" episodes, the detective figures it out in five seconds and then hounds the murderer from there.

That episode was in 1971, nine years before "Airplane." Following basically the same exact script as "Zero Hour," "Airplane" is one of the funniest movies ever made, and Nielsen, with his deadpan deliveries, ranks, oh, in the top five of the funniest characters in any comedy movie TB has ever seen, up there with:

1. Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack"
2. John Belushi in "Animal House"
3. Woody Allen in "Bananas"
4. Michael Keaton in "Night Shift"

"Airplane" cost $3.5 million to make and made more than $80 million. It features these classic lines from Nielsen:

"How soon can you land this plane?"
"I can't tell you."
"You can tell me. I'm a doctor."

"You have to tell the captain that we have to land as soon as possible. We have to get these people to a hospital."
"A hospital? What is it?"
"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important now."

And of course, the granddaddy of them all:
"Can you fly this plane, and land it?"
"Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."

TB had to go to IMDB to get some quotes from "The Naked Gun," which he hasn't seen nearly as many times as "Airplane."

Among those:
Ed: Don't you worry, Wilma. Your husband is going to be alright. Don't you worry about anything. Just think positive. Never let a doubt enter your mind.
Frank: He's right, Wilma. But I wouldn't wait until the last minute to fill out those organ donor cards.
[Wilma cries again]
Ed: What I'm trying to say is that, Wilma, as soon as Nordberg is better, he's welcome back at Police Squad.
Frank: ...Unless he's a drooling vegetable. But I think that's only common sense.


Mayor: Oh, Drebin. I don't want any trouble like you had last year on the south side. Understand? That's my policy.
Frank: Yes, well when I see five weirdo's dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's my policy.
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the park production of "Julius Caesar" you moron! You killed five actors, good ones.

The "Don't Call Me Shirley" line from "Airplane" was one of the clips used on the video board during the Hyatt Regency movie contest during the recently concluded football season.

For those who missed it, each game featured a contest in which two teams (usually a husband/wife) competed to see clips on the video board and guess what movie they were from. The first team to get three clips won a night's stay at the Hyatt Regency and dinner for two while there.

The movies used ranged from "The Godfather" - "Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides against the family again" to "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" - "if I'm here and you're here, isn't it, like, our time?" to "Pulp Fiction" - "I'm Winston Wolf; I solve problems."

The challenge each week was to come up with scenes where people would get the movie without having it be too obvious, while also being diligent about not letting anything R-rated slip through. It seemed to be a well-received promotion.

TB has been thinking about how to spruce up the promotions now that it's basketball season. Yes, the sneaker search and the kids-put-on-the-oversized-uniform are established classics. And yes, Princeton has had success bringing fans on the court to shoot for prizes at halftime.

Still, there's something new out there waiting to be done. The debut of the digital video boards leaves the potential for something like the movie game from football, but TB isn't quite sure yet.

The best contests are the ones that are winnable but require some effort on the part of the contestants. TB is open to suggestions, and hopefully the group here will be able to come up with something.

And yes, it wasn't much of an effort in relating Leslie Nielsen back to Princeton Athletics, but some people transcend the normal way of doing business. Nielsen, who spent much of his career as dramatic actor only to finish it as one of the great comedians ever, is one of them.

Unfortunately, there was no TigerBlog back when Rodney died in 2004. If there had been, that would have been at least a three-part series.

Princeton Athletics will dominate tomorrow's TB, with the first 235 words of it already in the can.

For today, it's all Leslie Nielsen. Rest in peace, and thanks for the all the laughs.


CZ said...

What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

B.McD. said...

And who can forget this classic scene from Naked Gun:

Anonymous said...

Leslie Nielsen: "I've been called the Laurence Olivier of spoofs. I guess that would make Laurence Olivier the Leslie Nielsen of Shakespeare."