Should I Watch..? 'Top Secret!'

Updated on July 23, 2018
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a full-time carer and former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films for over ten years.

Poster for the film
Poster for the film | Source

What's the big deal?

Top Secret! is an action comedy spoof released in 1984 and is the second film directed by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, the team behind Airplane!. This time, the film is a parody of World War 2 spy films as well as the musical films of Elvis Presley and concerns a rock and roll singer in East Germany who finds himself mixed up with the local French Resistance. The film stars Val Kilmer is his cinematic debut, Lucy Gutteridge, Christopher Villiers and Jeremy Kemp as well as a number of cameos from the likes of Peter Cushing, Omar Sharif and Jim Carter. Although the film received a warm reception from critics, it was considered a box office bomb with domestic earnings of just $20.4 million. The directing trio known as ZAZ would later go on to have more success with The Naked Gun series of films before going their separate ways.

Enjoyable

4 stars for Top Secret!

What's it about?

Rock and roll pioneer Nick Rivers travels with his manager to East Germany (which retains many aspects of Hitler's regime) to perform at a cultural festival put on by the authorities. However, the festival is designed to divert attention away from a military operation designed to reunite Germany under a revived Third Reich. Rivers, knowing little of the culture, attends a dinner where he stumbles into the company of Hillary Flammond, a member of the local French Resistance. Seeing that she is in trouble with the authorities, they quickly escape.

Bumping into each other again at a ballet, Rivers finds himself arrested after helping Hillary to flee once again. While incarcerated, he discovers Hillary's scientist father who has been coerced into making a superweapon for the Nazis whilst believing his daughter to be in custody. After a performance at the festival, Rivers meets up with Hillary and tells her that her father is still alive. Soon, Nick finds himself working with the Resistance in order to free Dr Flammond alongside the likes of Déjà Vu, Chocolate Mousse and the leader of the Resistance - Nigel The Torch, Hillary's childhood lover.

Trailer

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Val Kilmer
Nick Rivers
Lucy Gutteridge
Hillary Flammond
Christopher Villiers
Nigel - The Torch
Jeremy Kemp
General Streck
Peter Cushing
Swedish Bookstore Proprietor
Omar Sharif
Agent Cedric
Michael Gough
Dr Paul Flammond
Jim Carter
Déjà Vu
Eddie Tagoe
Chocolate Mousse

Technical Info

Directors
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker
Screenplay
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker & Martyn Burke
Running Time
90 minutes
Release Date (UK)
5th October, 1984
Genre
Action, Comedy, Musical
Kilmer displays long-forgotten comic potential as idiot rock & roll idol Nick Rivers.
Kilmer displays long-forgotten comic potential as idiot rock & roll idol Nick Rivers. | Source

What's to like?

Anyone who enjoyed the manic comic pace of Airplane! or The Naked Gun will be delighted to know that things are exactly the same here. The film employs a variety of sight gags, slapstick, witty dialogue and zany humour to extract as many laughs as possible from the material and most of the time, the film is a riot. Kilmer impresses as Nick Rivers, displaying a great sense of comic timing that we rarely see these days. Alongside a supporting cast that throws caution to the wind, the film delivers a wacky war film that dispenses with any sense of logic or cohesion. It exists purely to make you laugh and it succeeds.

However, there is more to it than that. The musical numbers, often reworded versions of songs like Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight? as well as original compositions like Skeet Surfin', are brilliant although you'll struggle to catch all of the lyrics because you're laughing so much. It also feels more inventive than Airplane! - take the famous scene in the Swedish bookstore that was filmed in reverse but played forward in the film, still with plenty of sight gags on show. If you suit this kind of goofy humour then Top Secret! will more than tickle your funny bone.

Fun Facts

  • Although the film marked Kilmer's cinematic debut, it was the last appearance in an American movie for Peter Cushing. Incidentally, the extensive prosthetics Cushing wears required a life-mask of his face. This mask was used again for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to help the film-makers digitise Cushing's face for the role of Grand Moff Tarkin.
  • Much of the German spoken in the film is actually Yiddish. For example, the train conductor asking for tickets is roughly saying "may you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground."
  • The surfing sequences were actually shot in Holywell Bay in Cornwall, a few miles down the road from popular UK surfing destination Newquay. The surf shack is actually the lifeguard's hut which is still there.

What's not to like?

Whether it's the passing of time or the increasing maturity of this viewer (well, relatively speaking), Top Secret! isn't quite as ground-breaking as its airborne predecessor. Some of the humour has dated quite badly such as the somewhat suggestive love song Rivers sings to a girl who looks to be about 12. The film occasionally strays from being saucy to being downright sordid and illustrates the apparent lure for comedic films from Hollywood towards being overly bawdy. The woman on the beach who leaves two craters in the sand where her boobs were is saucy - being sucked off by a calf before being sodomised by a bull is too far in the other direction.

What also works against the film is the somewhat confusing setting. Yes, I know that it's a spoof and not a documentary - nobody is going to watch this film for the narrative. But the combination of World War 2 with Fifties' surf movie musicals is slightly jarring although it doesn't distract too much. But it maybe prevents audiences from investing in the film too much. If Elvis had decided to do a war film then I suspect it might have looked a little like this but as it is, Top Secret! exists in a world of its own and without an invite, you'll end up confused and excluded.

The film isn't afraid to push boundaries, especially when it comes to good taste - it feels more sordid than saucy at times.
The film isn't afraid to push boundaries, especially when it comes to good taste - it feels more sordid than saucy at times. | Source

Should I watch it?

It's unfortunate that the film exists alongside iconic parodies such as Airplane! because Top Secret! is a genuinely funny film, albeit one which doesn't quite hit the heights ZAZ had already attained. But the film's hilarious soundtrack, it's relentless pursuit of a laugh and the performances from the cast (Kilmer especially) make the film far greater than you might suppose. Ironically, the film has become something of a secret gem itself and one that any fans of parody films owe to themselves to watch.

Great For: fans of Zucker, Abraham & Zucker, anyone looking for a laugh, immature audiences

Not So Great For: historical accuracy, overly sensitive people

What else should I watch?

Spoof films are a fairly rare breed and finding a good one is even rarer. Generally speaking, ZAZ are the acknowledged masters of the sub-genre with the aforementioned Airplane! widely considered the best of all time. Recruiting Leslie Nielsen again for their TV show Police Squad (which was criminally cancelled after just six episodes), incompetent detective Frank Drebin would return in The Naked Gun - a film so good that it would spawn two sequels, although these follow the Law of Diminishing Returns in terms of quality.

These days, parody films aren't as focused as earlier efforts and often target whatever films happen to be successful at the time, regardless of genre. Such critically reviled efforts like Disaster Movie and Epic Movie have such a scattershot approach to comedy that nothing is funny and display a chronic shortfall in wit and imagination. Probably the last great spoof was Hot Shots! which isn't much of a surprise knowing that Jim Abrahams directed this as well. Taking aim at action movies like Top Gun, the film doesn't exactly shoot it between the eyes but it does hit the target more often than not.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)