Cult Classics: Top Secret

top secret indexI never clicked with Top Secret as a kid even though friends loved it, and many consider it the jewel in the ZAZ crown, but now I realise I was an absolute idiot and while I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Airplane it definitely deserves second place. A mockery of espionage tropes, it sees Val Kilmer’s pop star Nick Rivers travel to Germany to perform at a festival and becoming involved in preventing a plot which would have seen East and West Germany reuniting

Of course there’s a romantic element as he falls for a member of the resistance, Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge, fine though not amazing) and briefly ends up in prison so that Hillary could escape. There’s also a villain in the form of supposed resistance leader Nigel “The Torch” (Christopher Villiers, hamming it up in a very funny way) and the rest of the resistance are memorable characters, as is their attempt to rescue a brilliant scientist which involves dressing up as a cow.

If there’s an issue with the film it’s that despite how it might seem the plot is a little slight, it sets up the premise well but then it’s largely an excuse to pile on joke after joke after joke. This could have been a problem with less funny moments too but thankfully it’s packed full of silliness, there’s some great musical parodies with a Beach Boys send up at the beginning especially fun, and it plays around with various film tropes with the train station platform being on wheels a particularly strong one.

Omar Shariff gets to send up the kind of roles he used to play in a very straight manner and seeing him crushed but still alive is a laugh out loud moment, there’s a delightfully daft dance sequence in the restaurant, and while Peter Cushing is underused and it’s a shame his role is such a small one, the sequence in the Swedish book shop is almost as memorable as the famous underwater scene, which is truly outstanding, and one of the many reasons this is so great.

There’s a couple of bits which haven’t aged well, such as a joke about the East German Women’s Olympic Team being muscle-y and masculine, while there’s no need for a brief bit of nudity in the Acme Laboratory Equipment calendar, but largely this is playful and light and frothy, Kilmer shows off some impressive comedic talent which he’s rarely displayed since, and this is definitely something of a underrated gem.

★★★★

Alex Finch.
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