FILMS… About Fred Ward’s Performance as a Police Squad Villain

#1990s

 

Returning to Fred Ward as a bad guy with a bomb of a plan…

 

The last of the Naked Gun franchise finds Fred Ward, as a criminal up against “the one man who can stop him”, Det Sgt Frank Drebin.

 

Naked Gun 33 ⅓ The Final Insult Trailer (1994), Master Yoda GM

 

I was sad to hear about the passing of Fred Ward, an actor who was most remembered as he supported Kevin Bacon in the Tremors (1990) film and its sequel. And in no degrees of separation Ward starred in a role in an Alan Smithee film in the same year. In this movie, Ward was in part of an all-star cast including Jodie Forster, Charlie Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Joe Pesci and Vincent Price in the film that some of the cast and the leading man and director Dennis Hopper disowned, Catchfire (1990). This film was otherwise known as Backtrack.

Ward took a bigger role in another franchise and with another starry cast in Naked Gun 33 ⅓ The Final Insult (1994). This was the last of the Naked Gun films which told about the police career of one Frank Drebin, aka Franklin “Frank” Drebin. Drebin was an inept but well meaning character from the one off comic TV series, Police Squad! (1982) in this spin off film trilogy.

Onto Fred Ward and his role in this comedy crime film franchise. At the start of this film, we meet his shady gruff talking criminal Rocco Dillon who is residing in Statesville prison. His mother Muriel (Kathleen Freeman) visits him – wearing an outfit possibly inspired by Ann Ramsay as the nasty Mama Fratelli in The Goonies (1985) – and she’s brought the evil terrorist, Papshmir (Raye Birk)  – a character from the first of this film trilogy –  with her.

Papshmir is keen to enrol Rocco’s particular set of bombing skills in a planned campaign against the United States. Rocco obliges but only if he can get 5 million dollars for doing just that. For this plan he will be assisted by his evil mother and his voluptuous girlfriend, Tanya Peters (Anna Nicole Smith).

The recently married, Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is having a movie themed nightmare, where he tries and fails to stop an endless montage worth of criminals of all sorts. This is seen in a beautifully recreated but parodied iconic scene from The Untouchables (1987). Drebin wakes up in a sweat and is consoled by his wife Jane (Priscilla Presley)…

In real life, Drebin however is getting used to retirement, with days full of shopping, ironing and daytime soaps. At the supermarket, he remembers his retirement party at work, handing in his police badge (and keeping his handcuffs) and then he recalls his wedding day. Lost in these flashbacks memories, Drebin is oblivious to the crime literally happening straight in front of him.

He’s been married for six months, and already he and Jane (Priscilla Presley) are having problems. The Drebins are seeing a marriage therapist, Dr Stuart Eisendrath (Earl Boen).  Jane complains that Drebin is insensitive to her wants and needs and all she wants is a baby. Jane is the breadwinner of the family, and in her job as a lawyer, babies are all she thinks about at work and at home. In his defence, Drebin states he did offer to adopt an 18 year old girl from Korea…

When his old work friends – Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) and Officer Nordberg (O J Simpson)  – visit this retiree, Drebin is asked to return for one last job. Drebin takes up their offer. All he has to do is to go undercover at a clinic to get Rocco’s girlfriend Tanya’s address. This is so the police can find out more about Rocco’s intentions. The police know that this notorious bomber has been approached by a known terrorist. Drebin should have the job done and dusted in less than 2 hours…

Cue much hilarity, as it turns out Drebin has to go undercover (not literally) – in a Clark Kent inspired disguise ie specs and hair swept over to a different side – at a fertility clinic to retrieve Tanya’s address. Tanya works at this clinic and met Drebin and his co-workers back in the 70s. Only we are in on the joke that it’s a fertility clinic, as Frank talks at cross purposes about his arm injury to the nurse. By the time he’s discovered his mistake, he has provided around 7 samples… anyway he manages to get Tanya’s address, which he writes on a hanky.

Meanwhile, his wife Jane is in an amorous mood at home and she has got some not so subtle lingerie on. Jane gets upset with the now exhausted Frank, and she accuses him of working again. She doesn’t believe Drebin when he tells her he’s having a fling. This wee white lie is used to avoid telling her the truth. Jane sobs into that hanky… so she leaves Drebin and takes up with her friend Louise. Cue is another film parody where Jane could be replaced with the name Thelma, as the women head for a bar.

Drebin then goes undercover again, this time as Nick “The Slasher” McGuirk, a new inmate at Statesville Prison. He befriends Rocco after Drebin is transferred to the maximum security wing. He wins Rocco’s trust after inciting a prison riot as he hides their escape plans from a guard.  After this pair successfully escape from the prison they are picked up by Rocco’s mother and they head for Tanya’s house.

Jane appears at the door  – after finding the address on the hanky – as she planned to apologise to Drebin. She finds her husband, just after Tanya has made sexual advances toward him with a big sloppy one sided kiss. Drebin pretends not to know Jane, and Jane is taken hostage by this gang… Then in time, Drebin and Jane learn Rocco’s devilish plan.

The plan is to plant a bomb at the Oscar ceremony which will explode on live TV. This bomb will activate after one of the winning envelopes is opened… cue a tongue in cheek in film homage to the Oscar ceremony and all that goes with it. At the Academy Awards, disaster reigns Drebin style leading to an explosive ending to this franchise…

The film series has recently been given the go ahead for a fourth film, written by Seth MacFarlane. I read it will star Liam Neeson (!) as Frank Drebin Jr. In a wee spoiler if you do the maths, this makes Drebin Jnr 28 in movie years, yet Neeson is nearly 70 years old in real life. I can only assume this plot will have him in the future and one day away from retirement.

This third Naked Gun film included a crazy mixture of movie parodies and homages. But sadly it was now observed to have some more inappropriate and quite tasteless humour. One of the best of the parodies is the previously mentioned The Untouchables film reference.

This like the film it comments on is set at 11.55 at a train station where Frank and his colleagues Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) and Officer Nordberg (O J Simpson) are undercover. These cops are waiting for their target and all are positioned next to a staircase. These men help out a few mothers by pushing their babies in prams up and down a staircase, and as they do the bad guy and his henchmen appear at the station door.

For Drebin and Hocken, it turns into a two player shooter game as they let go of the prams, leaving Nordberg to stop all the prams. Meanwhile, endless bad guys turn up as Drebin has to kill these terrorists and save the Pope and then the US President.

The Academy Awards ceremony has a few cameos from actors and actresses playing themselves. You will spot everyone from James Earl Jones and Elliott Gould to Olympia Dukakis and Raquel Welch. However, do keep your eyes peeled in the Drebins’ marriage counselling scene as Darlin Husband spotted that there is a wee cameo from the actor in The Terminator franchise who played Dr Silberman.

As for Fred Ward, he totally hams up his bad guy role as this gruff talking criminal and mummy’s boy. His character was often the straight man to Nielsen’s comedy, but Ward comes into his own as more of a cartoon inspired villain as the film progressed. It was fun to watch his transition to become less the hardman to a more cartoon-inspired villain, as he shared the details of his evil plan like the Hooded Claw in those Penelope Pitstop cartoons.

He also takes part in parodies and has scenes when this comedy film mocks those prison movies. These inspiring prison films include one that made Ward a star in Escape from Alcatraz (1979).  This was his breakout movie and only his third feature film was one of his more prolific roles as real life Alcatraz inmate, John William Anglin. Then later, Ward switched to a character on the right side of the law in Catchfire. But you could say in his role in the Naked Gun films as Rocco he was part of a Ward winning comedy performance that took him all the way to the Oscars.

 

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