Rest In Peace: Leslie Nielsen and Irvin Kirshner

30 Nov

This last weekend was rough for movie fans.  We lost two people who, for me anyway, had a fairly large impact.  Leslie Nielsen and Irvin Kirshner have both passed away.

Leslie Nielson is known today for his comedies.  And I love his comedies.  Everything from Airplane! to The Naked Gun to Wrongfully Accused.  I grew up on these movies.  Part of the reason that I love slapstick humor so much is because of Leslie Nielson.

But I will always remember Leslie Nielson for two other projects that had a huge effect on me as a child.  The first was a Disney mini-series called The Swamp Fox.  It was the story of the American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion.  While not extremely successful when it was first aired in the late fifties and early sixties, the series was shown again on the Disney Channel in the late eighties.  And I was blessed to be a child watching television at that time.  Its basically just a simple adventure story, in the same vein as the Davy Crockett stories Disney had released earlier.  And while only 8 episodes long, I remember watching this show over and over.

The other project is the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet.  The film starred Leslie Nielson as Commander John J. Adams and Robby the Robot as himself.  I first saw this film at a theater in Kansas City that showed classic films during the summer.  My dad took me to see it when I was maybe ten years old and not only did it scare me, it helped developed the life long love for science fiction I still have.  This film featured one of the first (if not the very first) all electronic soundtracks.  It also featured a monster made entirely out of electricity.  The thing that made it so great, is the same thing that made horror movies from this same era great.  A foreboding, over-shadowing sense of dread.  Forbidden Planet perfected that, but kept it a level that a family could still enjoy together.  Perfection.

In later years, Nielson became the comedian that he is remembered as today.  Whether as Dr. Rumack (Airplane!), Lieutenant Frank Drebin (The Naked Gun), or even President Baxter Harris (Scary Movie 3), Nielsen proved that he was a master of slapstick comedy.  He will truly be missed.

Irvin Kirshner is best known for directing Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.  And that is definitely the part of his career that had the biggest influence on me.  It is also probably the most well known film that Mr. Kirshner ever made.

Not a very well known director when he was chosen by George Lucas, Kirshner was initially very reluctant to take the job.  He was not a young man, even in 1980, and was by no means a regular, working  film director at the time.  His response to Lucas is quoted as being, “Of all the younger guys around, all the hot-shots, why me?”   To which Lucas replied, “Well, because you know everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but you’re not Hollywood.”  And it showed.  Kirshner’s experience in documentaries showed through in what is definitely the most character driven of all the Star Wars films.

After The Empire Strikes Backs, Kirshner went on to direct Robocop 2, Never Say Never Again (the only non-EON Productions James Bond film), several episodes of SeaQuest DSV, and a number of other things.  His touch will be sorely missed.

anyone want to watch Wrongfully Accused?



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