Top Secret! (1984) from Junior and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Junior's words in white

Finally, after years of waiting, one of my all time favorite silly movies, "Top Secret", has been released on DVD. I applaud the transfer and the re-mixed sound (what could be better than "Skeet Surfin'" in Dolby!), and it is wonderful to be able to add this to my digital collection, but ... in the special features department ... what a rip-off!

The features:

  • 4 deleted scenes, each about 1 minute long, and all of which deserved to be deleted because they simply were not funny.
  • Story boards for 3 scenes. No explanations or anecdotes, just sketches in black ink on white paper that you have to manually click through
  • Language options
  • A 30 second trailer for the film
  • Worst...Director's Commentary...Ever!

    Seriously, the commentary is horrible. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and two producers sat in a sound booth, watched the movie, and talked about stuff like 'hey, there's my mom', what it was like growing up in Wisconsin, their production arguments over dick and poop jokes, and a 15 minute rant about the day they discovered VHS was better than shooting on Super 8 back in the 70's! There was no editing, just ninety raw minutes of an open mic discussion. Every time one of the producers tried to ask an interesting question about production, Abrahams and the Zuckers would get sidetracked talking about something else. Eventually, the producers gave up.

    During part of their ramblings they basically dismiss the movie. They say that it made no money in the theaters and that's pretty much when they stop talking about anything other than when they were doing Kentucky Fried Theater in college in Wisconsin. Excuse me for sounding like a teenager, but....Uh, HELLO!?! Guys, think about it...this is a movie that has been kept alive for nearly 20 years by loyal fans! We are the folks who will be buying this movie, I think we deserve better.

  • Despite the directors' lack of interest in their own film, "Top Secret" is still a fun, mindless movie full of bad puns, sight gags and great silly songs. Val Kilmer was spectacular in his first movie role as the pseudo-Elvis movie hero of a 1950s style WW2 movie. Even though some gags are dated, I still laugh almost as hard now as the first time Scoop took me to see this in the theater. A true comedy classic in the spoof genre.



    Scoop's words in yellow:

    I like this movie, although I don't really share Junior's unconditional enthusiasm. I do think that the first 25 minutes are absolutely inspired lunacy, filled with great parodies of international spy films as well as Elvis musicals, but that level wasn't sustained.

    The premise is that Val Kilmer plays an Elvis-like entertainer who is making a concert appearance in East Germany. The East Germans have their own typically conniving, world-dominating reasons for wanting him there.


    • An early montage shows the song that made Kilmer famous. Skeet Surfin' USA.

    If everybody had a surfboard

    and a 12 gauge too-o

    they they'd all be skeet surfin' ...

    The quoted excerpt makes it sound like a parody of Surfin' USA, but it's actually a riff on about ten different surf songs. While it plays, the visuals show guys surfin' and shootin' their shotguns (rather erratically, it should be noted). When they "shoot the curl", they really shoot the curl. This is absolutely hilarious, a great comic set piece.

    • On his way to East Germany, Kilmer studies language tapes and learns how to say phrases that will be useful in Germany, like "I'd like some schnitzel for my schnauser" and "I have sauerkraut in my lederhosen". (The "German" spoken in the film is rarely in German. Sometimes it is nonsense words that sound Germanic. Sometimes it is Yiddish. When it is real German, it is comically inappropriate for the situation.)
    • Meanwhile, we see the scheming German high command. Their actual schemes are not that important, but I loved some of the touches. For example, the official government stationery of East Germany says "better government through intimidation" in the letterhead.
    • The loyal East German citizens sing their national anthem for the Olympic swim team: Hail, hail East Germany / Land of fruit and grape / Land where you'll regret / If you try to escape / No matter if you tunnel under or take a running jump at the wall / Forget it, the guards will kill you, if the electrified fence doesn't first.
    • And wait until you see the women's swim team.
    • Parallel to the other action, we see the movements of the underground, which opposes the East German government. Inexplicably, however, it is the French underground, and they all have silly names like Monsieur Dejavu. ("I feel like I've met you before"). My favorite dialogue is an exchange between two underground members who meet in public. Part of their conversation is coded, part of it is an all-too-public uncoded exchange of spy information, and part of it is simply a customer purchasing magician's novelties from a street vendor. Very clever! The battle between the government and the underground also leads to a marvelous parody of the inevitable fight scene that occurs atop a moving train in all war films.

    DVD info from Amazon.

    • see Junior's comments in white

    • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

    If Top Secret! could have sustained something approaching its highest level of humor throughout a good chunk of its running time, it would have been a comic masterpiece, like Airplane!, another work from the same creative team. It did not. There are some very long stretches with almost no humor, and the repetitious song parodies seem to go on forever.

    I do agree with Junior that Kilmer did a spectacular job with the Elvis impersonation, and he is really good at singing and dancing the music of the 1953-1962 period.

    As Jr said, it's a good screwball comedy. Not a superlative one like Police Squad or Airplane!, but a good one, and you'll like it if you like that kind of movie. I'm glad I didn't waste my time with the commentary, and I'm sad to hear that the Zuckers are ripping off their own fans with their lack of interest in discarded footage and/or worthwhile commentary. 

    The Critics Vote

    • 4.5/5

    The People Vote ...

    IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

    My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

    Based on this description, this film is a C+.

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