Film Review – Top Secret! (1984)

Just a normal cow in gumboots? I think not...

Just a normal cow in gumboots? I think not…

Top Secret!

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Starring Val Kilmer, Omar Sharif, Jeremy Kemp

Review by Jordan

So, you’ve seen and love Airplane! (Flying High here in Australia) and agree that The Naked Gun is one of the funniest spoofs ever made, yet its possible that you haven’t even heard of ZAZ’s (Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker) other satirical piece of comedic brilliance Top Secret! Nor the many outrageously diverse jokes on offer. Well, its safe to say that you’re in the majority, and until recently, I was too.

What we have here is an unrelenting joke machine lost to time and perhaps a victim of its own mindlessness; careening through its 90 minute running time presenting prop jokes, endlessly quotable dialogue, physical comedy and broadly drawn characters with most hitting the mark superbly (of course a few hit the ground like a sack of potatoes… but when you see the scene relating to the above image of a cow wearing gumboots these will soon be forgotten about). Sending up both World War 2 and Elvis movies at the same time surely didn’t make much sense on paper, and translated to screen may as well be included in the Oxford dictionary as the very definition of bizarre, especially given the historical impossibilities, yet somehow thanks to Val Kilmer’s charisma (yes, I’m being serious), the inspired and utterly entertaining musical numbers and creations like Chocolate Mousse and Deja Vu it works.

Picking a favourite gag here is a task of almost intolerable difficulty, but despite the brilliance of the aforementioned cow, the giant phone, window shoot-out, joke seller, Blue Lagoon lampoon and runaway train platform I’ll have to go with the opening ‘Skeet Surfin’ video clip; the chart-topping song by Kilmer’s rock ‘n’ roll star Nick Rivers about the cruisy pleasures of shootin’ and surfin’ with more than a hint of Beach Boys inspiration. Needless to say, if you’re not laughing by this point your taste in film may be a tad too refined for what’s on offer, after all, this is a comedy in which Omar Sharif is squashed into a cube car/human hybrid and Peter Cushing (!) sports a giant, ‘magnified’ eye. Actually it would be remiss of me not to praise this scene in which Cushing appears as an antique book seller, acted entirely in reverse, shot in one take, and played backwards to give the impression the actors are speaking Swedish… honestly, it’s kind of genius.

Like most treasured oddities, Top Secret! was a commercial and largely critical failure upon release, with Roger Ebert being the one main voice of reason unfortunately drowned out by the likes of Variety and The New York Times. It’s undeniable that it remains inferior to Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and that a more linear, structured arc may have helped its cause, but its disappearance from the world of American comedy is most unfortunate and like a cannon wielded by Chocolate Mousse it deserves to blast its way back into the hearts and minds of an eager audience.

“Listen to me, Hillary. I’m not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist, only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island, who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.”

“I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.”

Some bad movie? Kind of… but a brilliant, hilarious, zany, original, exemplary bad movie.

3.5 traitorous carrier pigeons out of 5

8 responses to “Film Review – Top Secret! (1984)

  1. I think the thing I love about this movie is how far they take these jokes, and how well they land. The sequence with the cow during the final set-piece was just amazing, inspired silliness.

  2. I first saw this many, many moons ago on TV – and fortunately taped it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched it since. As a big WW2 history/film buff, I love the way it rips off so many war movie tropes. My favourite scene is still the one where they crawl under the wire up to the pair of boots :D. Personally, I rate it higher than Airplane, Naked Gun etc… Noooovelties, paaaaarty tricks…

    • Haha, that is a great scene! there are enough prop jokes like that to cover at least 3 comedies on their own.
      Its cool to hear that you love it for the WW2 side of things as well as the more random scenes it offers.
      Regards, Jordan

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