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18 Fun Facts About The Naked Gun

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After his career-changing performance in Airplane!, Leslie Nielsen teamed up with Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker again for the ABC parody show Police Squad! in 1982. After six episodes, it was canceled (though some people were clearly watching it, as it was nominated for two Emmy Awards). Six years later, the show found new life and pronounced success as a comedy movie franchise, beginning with 1988’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!.

Nielsen returned as detective Frank Drebin, an inept police officer who uncovers an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II, and falls for the villain Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán)’s assistant, Jane Spencer, in Priscilla Presley’s first major film role. O.J. Simpson also took a repeated beating as Detective Nordberg. Here are some facts about the film that will make you notice birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, and stoplights for the first time.

1. THE ORIGINAL TITLE FOR THE FILM SOUNDED TOO SIMILAR TO ANOTHER POLICE MOVIE FRANCHISE.

The Zuckers and Abrahams (known in shorthand as ZAZ) were informed by Paramount Pictures that Police Squad wasn’t a suitable title because it was too similar to Police Academy (Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach came out in March of 1988). The filmmakers were given a list of 20 other titles, and chose Naked Gun because “it promised so much more than it could ever possibly deliver.”

2. PRISCILLA PRESLEY HAD NEVER DONE COMEDY BEFORE.

She was cast by ZAZ for the same reason that other actors mostly known for serious roles were put in their movies: it makes the dry parody even funnier. Presley had worked on the show Dallas. Zucker often quipped that the only problem with her was when her ex, Elvis, visited the set.

3. GEORGE KENNEDY HAD WANTED TO WORK WITH THE ZUCKERS AND ABRAHAMS FOR YEARS.

George Kennedy (Ed Hocken) recalled in his memoir: “The first time I met ZAZ, the three of them were in their office at Paramount, and I read a headline from a newspaper in their waiting room: ‘Legless Boy Cartwheels Down Hill to Save Dad.’ A beat. Eruptions of laughter from all, and we were friends.” Kennedy was first offered Lloyd Bridges’ part in Airplane!, but was busy working and making good money acting in the ongoing Airport movie series.

4. KENNEDY WASN’T A FAN OF THE FILMING PROCESS.

Kennedy claimed that the Zucker brothers (David was the credited director for the first Naked Gun film) didn’t believe in doing any scene without 40 or more takes, and that telling a joke 40-plus times in front of a camera was “painful.”

5. THE ZUCKERS DIDN’T LOOK FAR FOR THEIR CASTING OF DOMINIQUE, LUDWIG’S SECRETARY.

She was played by Charlotte Zucker, Jerry and David’s mother.

6. THEY DREW FROM SEVERAL OLDER MOVIES.

The Charlotte Rampling and Robert Mitchum movie Farewell, My Lovely (1975) was where the scene of Priscilla Presley gliding down the stairs came from (the falling part was the comedic twist). The assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle in The Day of the Jackal (1973) gave ZAZ the idea for the assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II. Mad magazine, the Dirty Harry movies, and the cop series M Squad were other cited sources of satirization.

7. THE PAINTING DREBIN DESTROYED IS THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH'S THE BLUE BOY.

A copy of it anyway. The original is in The Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

8. IT WAS JOHN HOUSEMAN’S FINAL FILM ROLE.

Houseman played the middle finger-raising driving instructor. Houseman collaborated with Orson Welles on the infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast and on Citizen Kane. In 1974, he won a Best Supporting Acting Oscar for the his role in The Paper Chase. A week before The Naked Gun was released, Houseman also made a cameo in Scrooged.

9. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC’S CAMEO WAS A DREAM COME TRUE.

Police Squad! was his favorite TV show. He would have been satisfied with just being an extra in the movie. When the Zuckers heard that he was a fan, they wrote the scene of him on the plane.

10. WEIRD AL TOOK FIRST DATES TO SEE THE MOVIE, WITHOUT TELLING THEM HE WAS IN IT.

His dates “flipped out,” according to Yankovic. He always wore the same Hawaiian shirt as his big-screen self.

11. THE QUEEN’S RECEPTION WAS SHOT AT THE AMBASSADOR HOTEL.

The hotel permanently closed to guests one month later, and was demolished in 2005. You’ve seen the hotel in a number of films, including The Graduate, Pretty Woman, Forrest Gump, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

12. THE QUEEN ELIZABETH II ACTRESS MADE A LIVING AS A QUEEN ELIZABETH II IMPERSONATOR.

Jeannette Charles got her start in 1971, after she had a portrait of herself painted as a gift to her husband. The artist later remarked on her resemblance to Her Majesty in a newspaper interview. She appeared as the Queen in numerous TV shows and movies, including European Vacation and Austin Powers in Goldmember. Charles turned down a role in Ali G Indahouse because she thought the scene was disrespectful. Charles retired in 2004.

13. TIM MCCARVER WAS PAID A TINY AMOUNT FOR PLAYING ONE OF THE (MANY) BASEBALL ANNOUNCERS.

McCarver said he would have given back his “puny” salary to have actually been on set with Nielsen, who he was a huge fan of since he saw Airplane!.

14. REGGIE JACKSON WAS RETIRED BY THE TIME THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

He was an Oakland Athletic, not an Angel, for his final season in 1987.

15. YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN THE GUY WHO SHOUTED "IT’S ENRICO PALLAZZO!" BEFORE.

Mark Holton was also bike thief Francis Buxton in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and Chubby in Teen Wolf.

16. NIELSEN PERFORMED FOR QUEEN ELIZABETH II IN 2005.

The two were both on hand for the Saskatchewan Centennial Gala to celebrate Nielsen’s birth province in Canada. The actor performed for a crowd of 13,000, which included the Queen.

17. THE NAKED GUN THEME SONG PLAYED AT NIELSEN’S FUNERAL.

Nielsen passed away on November 28, 2010 at the age of 84 and was laid to rest in Fort Lauderdale. Dominik Hauser’s theme played as the Canadian Mounted Police carried his coffin.

18. ED HELMS IS SET TO STAR IN A NEW NAKED GUN MOVIE.

David Zucker said he has no involvement in it, despite being asked.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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