Top Secret! (1984)

Top Secret! (1984)

Another gloriously silly spoof from the masters of satire behind Airplane!



United Kingdom, United States of America
English, German, Yiddish
Comedy, Drama
Andrew Hawkins, Billy J. Mitchell, Charlotte Zucker
90 min


There are too many jokes of every possible kind to pick a favorite from here, but the simple “Is this the potato farm?” “Yes, I’m Albert Potato” is hard to beat.

What it's about

An American rockstar finds himself entangled in an East German resistance movement when he falls in love with the daughter of a kidnapped scientist.

The take

Before he was Jim Morrison, Iceman, or Batman, Val Kilmer made his big screen debut as Nick Rivers, the doltish American rock 'n' roll idol who is unwittingly embroiled in an East German underground resistance plot in Top Secret!. Skewering everything from WWII romances and Cold War spy thrillers to ‘60s popstar musicals, this delightfully silly spoof from the team behind Airplane! is jampacked with sight gags, double entendres, and multi-layered setpieces delivered at such a manic pace that you’ll need several rewatches to exhaust all of its comedy. Its lowbrow style means that some jokes are undoubtedly dated, but there’s a lot of timeless wit on display here, including zinging one-liners, tongue-in-cheek lampooning of cinematic clichés, and slapstick gags in the vein of masters of the form like Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. Top Secret! is blessedly under no illusions as to what we want from a movie like this, so the fact that there’s no comprehensible plot in sight only adds to the enjoyment here.

What stands out

It’s impossible to pick just one standout gag — and besides, they’re best left unspoiled. To give you an idea of what comic delights are in store here, though, Top Secret! opens with a musical send-up of The Beach Boys and features unforgettable extended gags like the ridiculously elaborate saloon fight that takes place entirely underwater. The filmmakers use literally every tool in their arsenal to keep the laughs coming, switching from surreal forced perspective jokes to elaborate setpieces — such as the brilliant, many-layered Swedish bookshop scene starring none other than Peter Cushing — with such speed it almost induces whiplash.


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