The Top Secret comedy, until now!
A rock and roll star film parody of World War II spy films and Elvis musicals set in East Germany.
Top Secret!- Trailer, Paramountmovies UK and photos by Paramount Pictures
If I said the names Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker and asked you to tell me a film directed by this trio chances are you would say the Airplane (1980) film or the Naked Gun Trilogy. Not many of you would say Top Secret (1984) which they wrote with the additional help of Martyn Burke. Top Secret features the debut of one Val Kilmer in the leading (and sometimes singing) role.
Kilmer alongside then Hollywood big acting names Peter Cushing, Omar Sharif and Michael Gough. There is recognisable support is from British stars Jim Carter, Christopher Villiers and Warren Clarke. As with the Airplane film which mocked the Airport film series, Top Secret is a parody of both Elvis movies and World War II spy films. Wikipedia reports how Kilmer dressed as Elvis when auditioning for the film.
The film starts on an unknown date in East Germany with the East Germans plotting to reunite Germany and make a superweapon with the help of Dr Paul Flammond (Gough), a scientist. The East Germans intend to use a cultural festival as a front to distract NATO while they carry out their evil plans and threaten the scientist with his daughter’s life if he does not help them. Flammond is to create a “Polaris naval mine” that will destroy the entire NATO submarine fleet. These plans are rumbled by Agent Cedric (Sharif) who fights with a German on a train.
The Germans invite the well-known singer, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer with a mullet) from America as part of this festival. He is a chart topping singer, and the film’s opening credits have an excellent parody song of the Beach Boys – which Beach Boy, Brian Wilson helped write – named Skeet Surfing which riffs both their music and the beach movies of the 1960s.
Rivers is an obvious heartthrob for his generation with his Elvis dance moves and boyish good looks. Rivers travels to Germany with his manager. As the festival is announced in mock and random German along with subtitles, there are a lot of visual jokes to look out for. Yiddish is also used as “German” in other scenes.
Agent Cedric then hands over information to another spy – a visually impaired souvenir seller – about Flammond being forced to make a secret weapon for the Germans before this man is shot. Meanwhile pretty Hilary (Lucy Gutteridge), a member of the resistance movement, intends to gate crash the dinner laid on for the cultural festival attendees.
As she has trouble entering Nick invites her to join him at his table. Again there are visual gags and parodies galore, including Nick and Hillary parodying the dance routine from The Sound of Music (1965) when danced by Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews.
After Rivers mistakenly dances and sings to the dinner guests, he annoys the Germans but gets a well-deserved standing ovation. It is an outstanding performance by Kilmer who carries out Elvis moves effortlessly while the band lampoons musical greats. Hilary is told that her father – the scientist Flammond – has been kidnapped. Separately, both Rivers and Hilary attend the ballet and when Rivers assists Hilary to escape from an unknown gunned assailant whilst they attend, Rivers is arrested…
The story continues then almost randomly with appearances from the highly stereotyped French resistance run by an Englishman named Nigel with his supporters having names such as Deja Vu and Du Quois, unexpected romance, a surprise romantic reunion, more musical numbers from Rivers/ Kilmer and dancing from Kilmer, more parodies – including one perfect one of The Blue Lagoon (1980) – traitors, a scene filmed in reverse – which equally makes sense played the right way – and a welly booted cow! Peter Cushing and Michael Gough have small but effective parts.
But you will never watch Doctor Zhivago (1965) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) again without thinking of Omar Sharif’s final scene in this movie. Gutteridge as the only girl in the cast shines but despite reminding me of a young Ingrid Bergman she is easily eclipsed by the others in the French resistance group, although stereotypical provides much humour.
There are lovely choreographed scenes but Kilmer steals the show both as a romantic lead, a singer – he sings all the songs on the soundtrack – and as a dancer. And despite the fact film bombed at the box office, against more remembered films such as The Karate Kid (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). but now is mostly remembered more fondly as helping Kilmer cruise to many more (pun intended) well-known films including Top Gun (1986) and Willow (1988). And one could say that this is the film that opened The Doors (1991) for Val Kilmer.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This post is part of A Timely Blogathon as hosted by Film Grimoire and MovieRob. Other films in this blog directed by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker include the Naked Gun Trilogy as reviewed HERE and relating to its montages HERE. Val Kilmer appears in my Top Gun and Willow review. Peter Cushing is remembered by Judy Matheson, his Hammer co-star HERE and is reviewed in Asylum. Omar Sharif stars in Doctor Zhivago.