The Genius Of Leslie Nielsen

Why the Canadian actor will be much missed


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Leslie Nielsen died last night at the age of 84, and the world just lost an essential bit of comedy. In tribute to the man who inspired a devoted following and launched a million quote-offs, we present a guide to some of his funniest and greatest moments. We’re not going to write too much about his early career and serious roles (you can read more about that in our obituary here), but we have instead assembled his very funniest lines from his very best films. Read, imagine or remember Nielsen delivering these lines in his best deadpan, laugh, and remember a heck of a comedy talent.

Nielsen is, at best, third or fourth lead in the Airplane! movie, but he stole every scene he was in as Doctor Rumack, the sober physician whose job it becomes to treat the crew and passengers struck down by food poisoning while traumatised war veteran Ted Stryker tries to land the stricken jet. For example:

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.

Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?

Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land?

Captain Oveur: I can't tell.

Rumack: You can tell me. I'm a doctor.

Captain Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure.

Rumack: Well, can't you take a guess?

Captain Oveur: Well, not for another two hours.

Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?

Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?

Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.

Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

Rumack: I won't deceive you, Mr. Striker. We're running out of time.

Ted Striker: Surely there must be something you can do.

Rumack: I'm doing everything I can... and stop calling me Shirley!

It may only have run for six episodes, but the files from Police Squad, and their bumbling star detective Frank Drebin (Nielsen of course), became a hugely influential comedy series. Well, influential on the Naked Gun film series at least, since those were a spin-off big-screen version of the show. Still, you’d look long and hard to find a funnier cop show – not even CSI comes close – and the sight gags we haven’t included here, including the fake freeze-frames, are genius.

[Frank Drebin and Ed Hocken are interviewing a witness to a shooting]

Sally: Well, I first heard the shot, and as I turned, Jim fell.

Frank Drebin: Jim Fell's the teller?

Sally: No, Jim Johnson.

Frank Drebin: Who's Jim Fell?

Ed: He's the auditor, Frank.

Sally: He had the flu, so Jim... filled in.

Frank Drebin: Phil who?

Ed: Phil Din. He's the night watchman.

Sally: Oh, if only Phil had been here...

Frank Drebin: We're sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn't dead then.

Frank Drebin: Now do you think you can beat The Champ?

Buddy: I can take him blindfolded.

Frank Drebin: What if he's not blindfolded?

Buddy: I can still beat him.

Frank Drebin: Mr. Burton, we have men combing the entire lakefront area. If your daughter is close, we'll find her.

Warner: The lakefront? My God, do you know how big that area is? My daughter's a needle in a haystack!

Frank Drebin: That's not true. I've seen a picture of her; she's very attractive.

Frank Drebin: Is there a ransom note?

Ed: Yes, the butler found it; it was tied to this window and thrown into the rock garden. I sent the note to the lab; they're demanding one million dollars.

Frank Drebin: Why would the lab demand a million dollars?

Mimi Du Jour: Is this some kind of bust?

Frank Drebin: Yes, ma'am, it's very impressive, but we need to ask you a few questions.


**Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?

Frank Drebin: I'm a locksmith. And, I'm a locksmith.

Mr. V: That was nice work. You took a big chance doing that.

Frank Drebin: Well, you take a big chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

Police Squad may not have lasted long on TV, but its legacy held up well enough that the team were able to transfer the adventures of clueless cop Frank Drebin to the big screen for three comedy hits. The formula for all three movies was pretty much the same, with Nielsen romancing Priscilla Presley and a variety of drug-dealers getting in their way. But the gags were sometimes golden.

Frank Drebin: It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.


**Frank Drebin: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

Jane: Goodyear?

Frank Drebin: No, the worst.

Mayor: Now Drebin, I don't want any trouble like you had on the South Side last year, that's my policy.

Frank Drebin: Well, when I see five weirdos, dressed in togas, stabbing a man 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!


**Frank Drebin: Jane, since I've met you, I've noticed things that I never knew were there before... birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.


**Frank Drebin: (recalling a past love) I'd known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She'd hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don't recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.

Frank Drebin: A good cop - needlessly cut down by some cowardly hoodlums.

Ed: That's no way for a man to die.

Frank Drebin: No... you're right, Ed. A parachute not opening... that's a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine... having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that's the way I wanna go!

Wilma Nordberg: [cries] Oh... Frank. This is terrible!

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 Drebin: 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 Drebin: ...Unless he's a drooling vegetable. But I think that's only common sense.

Frank Drebin: Wilma, I promise you; whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he's behind bars. Now, let's grab a bite to eat.**


The giggles continued on the sequel, where Ricardo Montalban was replaced by Robert Goulet as Quentin Hapsburg and Richard Griffiths played a genius scientist with a secret. Oooh!

Frank Drebin: I'm sorry I can't be more optimistic, Doctor, but we've got a long road ahead of us. It's like having sex. It's a painstaking and arduous task that seems to go on and on forever, and just when you think things are going your way, nothing happens.

Frank Drebin: Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?

Jane: He's Caucasian.

Ed: Caucasian?

Jane: Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.

Frank Drebin: Awfully big moustache.

Frank Drebin: Oh, it's all right. I'm sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn't that right, Mr... Poopy Pants?

Frank Drebin: I'm single! I love being single! I haven't had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!

[Music stops playing. Everyone stops talking and stares at him]

Frank Drebin: [to everybody] I mean at the time I was dating a lot.


**Frank Drebin: [describing Jane; voice-over] I couldn't believe it was her. It was like a dream. But there she was, just as I remembered her. That delicately beautiful face. And a body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. And breasts that seemed to say... "Hey! Look at these!" She was the kind of woman who made you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were a man! She reminded me of my mother, all right. No doubt about it.

Frank Drebin: This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you wanna do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!

Commissioner Anabell Brumford: Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to introduce a most special American. Tonight, he is being honoured for his 1000th drug-dealer killed.

Frank Drebin: [to applause] Thank you. But, in all honesty, the last three I backed over with my car. Luckily, they turned out to be drug-dealers.

Decidedly the weakest of the three Guns, this still has some genius moments to recommend it. Movie fans will find some giggles in the Oscar ceremony finale, and it marks the best movie role ever for the late Anna Nicole Smith (admittedly not a high bar).

Frank Drebin: Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.

Frank Drebin: Like a blind man at an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way through.

Frank Drebin: I like my sex the way I play basketball, one on one with as little dribbling as possible.

Ed: You might end up dead!

Frank Drebin: "You might end up dead" is my middle name.

Ed: What about Jane?

Frank Drebin: I don't know her middle name.

*Frank Drebin: *Well... We shot a lot of people together. It's been great. But today I retire, so if I do any shooting now, it'll have to be within the confines of my own home. Hopefully, an intruder and not an in-law, like at my bachelor party.

Rocco: Where's your prison number?

Frank Drebin: It's unlisted.

Nielsen appeared in Paul Haggis’ underrated Mountie comedy/drama, as a former colleague of lead Benton Fraser’s deceased father, in two episodes: 1994’s Manhunt and 1996’s All The Queen’s Horses. Just to confuse matters, Fraser Sr. is still around in ghost form, and while he usually talks only to Benton, Nielsen’s Buck Frobisher appeared able to see him as well. Go figure.

Constable Benton Fraser: You ran away, but you brought your dress uniform with you?

Buck Frobisher: No, I rented it. If we don't catch him by Tuesday, I have to pay extra.

Buck Frobisher: [to Fraser] You track a man about as quietly as I pass wind.

Buck Frobisher: [on a train taken over by terrorists] I've found the brake.

Fraser Sr.: What makes you think it's the brake?

Buck Frobisher: It's written right on it, "brake".

Fraser Sr.: Huh, could be a ruse.

Buck Frobisher: To what end?

Fraser Sr.: Something criminal.

Buck Frobisher: Are you insinuating that an entire design crew has deliberately mislabeled the key elements of a train? **

**Fraser Sr.: It's possible.

Buck Frobisher: I'm talking to a lunatic.

Definitely a lesser Nielsen spoof, this is still better than what was to come. Unfortunately, the biggest laughs in the film are all sight gags, so here are the best quotes for your enjoyment.

Dick Steele, Agent WD-40: I'm going in there.

Veronique Ukrinsky, Agent 3.14: That's crazy!

Dick Steele, Agent WD-40: No, crazy is walking down the street with half a cantaloupe on your head, muttering "I'm a hamster, I'm a hamster."

Veronique Ukrinsky, Agent 3.14: Have a nice flight, and I wish you adieus

Dick Steele, Agent WD-40: Thank you, but I am quite satisfied with the do I have.

Dick Steele, Agent WD-40: [to Rancor] I'd shake your hand, but I don't know where it landed

The series is utter dreck, recycling entire scenes from better films with poor actors and calling the result comedy. But Nielsen’s appearance in the third instalment, and David Zucker’s involvement, briefly reinvigorated matters. Nielsen essentially played his character, President Harris, as Frank Drebin in politics – and there’s nothing wrong with that (even if Lloyd Bridges had already done the same thing in the Hot Shots series a little bit).

President Harris: You're excited? You should feel my nipples.

President Harris: I just want to tell you both good luck, we're all counting on you.

President Harris: Get me the President.

John Wilson: You are the President.

President Harris: Good. Then I already know about this. Let's order lunch.


**Agent Thompson: Sir! Step away from the window!

President Harris: What? Did I forget to put my pants on again?

[President Harris grabs a kid with braces]

President Harris: Good God, the small ones have metal teeth! Jerry's Kids, my ass.

[headbutts the kid]


**President Harris: These men died for their country. Send flowers to their bitches and hos.

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