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Film: Top Secret!

Top Secret! (1984) is the second feature-length comedy by the Zucker Abrahams Zucker team (third, if one counts The Kentucky Fried Movie), and stars Val Kilmer in his first theatrical role, as Nick Rivers, an Elvis-like rock idol sent into East Germany for a goodwill tour. Once there, he is swept into a spy plot by Hillary Flammond, whose father is held captive by the Communists. Hillary takes Nick to the French Resistance (yes, in East Germany), the charismatic leader of which is her former lover, and who seizes on the opportunity to use Nick's knowledge of the prison to break Dr. Flammond out.

That's the plot, but the movie is perhaps better appreciated for its farcical, even savage zaniness. It parodies everything, from rock idols to forced perspective shots to Professional Wrestling to goose-stepping Nazis to, well, cow disguises, with the ZAZ team's trademark Rapid-Fire Comedy. "And I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow!"


This movie contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: World War II espionage films, and to a lesser extent, Elvis movies.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Parodied. It takes Nick a couple tries to find the right one, but there seem to be several more than strictly necessary. One of them inexplicably leads to a toilet bowl.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Parodied. The Germans in the movie are supposed to be East Germans, but their uniforms are Nazi-era uniforms with the swastikas removed. (DDR (East German) uniforms did look closer to Nazi uniforms than West German uniforms, so there's a touch of Truth in Television in there.)
  • All Just a Dream: Nick has a dream about being in school and being late to an exam, not having studied, and so forth. Then we snap back to reality where he's being whipped in a German prison and he exclaims, "Thank God". Because school is worse than torture.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Every time Latrine enters the scene, he's been shot, beaten up, tortured, or whatever, and is gasping out a desperate message.
  • Aside Glance: Several times; at one point Nick even winks at the camera.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Most of the German dialogue is unrelated phrases of Yiddish; the few times it is actually German... well, see Bilingual Bonus. Other scenes have English running backwards, and Latin (Pig or otherwise).
  • Assumed Win: Nick turns a planned operatic performance into a rock concert by assuming that the lauding of the singer is meant for him.
  • Badass: Parodied in Chocolate Mousse. The first thing we see him doing is sitting around, being a Scary Black Man, smoking a huge cigar. When his name is called, he grunts in acknowledgment and eats his cigar. Later he drinks gasoline from a bottle, singlehandedly wields a cannon as a firearm, exhibits Improbable Aiming Skills, wrestles a German soldier WWE-style, and apparently has people waiting just off-camera to hand him machine guns.
  • Bamboo Technology: Parodied. While stranded on a deserted island, Hillary and Nigel build a modern home out of "bamboo, dried seaweed, and snot", complete with functioning garage door (and a remote).
  • Bar Brawl: One of these occurs in a Western saloon (even though the film is set in East Germany) ...underwater.
  • Behind the Black: Played for laughs as they come upon a pair of boots that they should be able to tell are just a pair of boots in a field, but they don't realize that there is no enemy soldier there until the camera shows it to the audience.
  • BFG: Parodied, sort of. Chocolate Mousse uses a muzzle-loader cannon as a handgun.
  • The Big Board: The diorama Nigel uses to explain his plan to the other Resistance members.
  • Big Electric Switch: The electric fence ("Das Fencen Switchen") around the castle is turned on and off with one of these.
  • Bilingual Bonus: While a lot of the German phrases are rendered in As Long as It Sounds Foreign style, a few of them are actual jokes. One particular gem should crack up German-speakers:
    Streck: Make sure they leave no marks.
    von Horst: (severely) Ich liebe dich, mein Schatz. Translation: I love you, sweetie.
  • Binocular Shot: Parodied. The herd of cows under observation walk into the "black frame".
  • Black Comedy Rape:
    • The Salvage Pirates and Nigel, with the bonus of Getting Crap Past the Radar. "They tormented me in ways I cannot describe." (Followed by a contented smile at the memory.)
    • The cow disguise is so effective that it attracts both a nursing calf and an amorous bull...
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The most obvious one is Hillary telling Nick that her tale of love lost "sounds like some bad movie", followed by an Aside Glance from both actors. The Aside Glance is used several other times as well.
  • Butt Monkey: Latrine's job in La Résistance is to be badly hurt and gasp out important messages.
  • The Cast Showoff: Val Kilmer did his own singing.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: During the underwater Bar Brawl, a chair is used as a weapon. It seems to be made out of balsa wood as it breaks instantly.
  • Code Name/Theme Naming: Parodied. One group has French phrases for code names, and another has food names.
    Du Quois: This is Chevalier, Montage, Detente, Avant Garde, and Deja Vu.
    Deja Vu: Haven't we met before, monsieur?
    Nick Rivers: I don't think so.
    Du Quois: Over there, Croissant, Souffle, Escargot, and Chocolate Mousse.
    • Nigel "The Torch" (see Meaningful Name)
    • In the German translation, for unexplained reasons, the names of the first group are replaced with nicknames for traitors like Rat, Goldfish, Mole, etc. Here adding to the joke that previously someone suspected a mole in the group.
  • Circular Drive: A seemingly endless parade of military vehicles passes the camera...until the camera cranes back, revealing it's the same six vehicles driving in a circle.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Nick, when told by Dr. Flammond about an invention that can cheaply separate salt from seawater and asked if he understands what it means for the starving nations of the world (e.g. no more water shortages), answers: "Wow, they'd have enough salt to last forever!"
    • Latrine's final Almost Dead Guy appearance:
      Latrine: A traitor in our midst... [slams the corpse of a carrier pigeon on the table]
      Deja Vu: I see you have dealt with him appropriately.
  • Commie Nazis: The East Germans are a pastiche of both World War II era Nazis and post-war Communists.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Hillary's tale of love lost with Nigel is called out as such.
    Nick: I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.
    Hillary: I know. It all sounds like some bad movie. (Aside Glance)
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: While Nick is being tortured for information, the Germans will only go so far...
    Colonel: He won't break. We've tried everything! Do you want me to bring out the Leroy Nieman paintings?
    General: No. We cannot risk violating the Geneva Convention.
  • Creator Cameo: The three directors, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, play the three guards who arrest Nick in the "prop room".
  • Depth Deception: A telephone looks like it's in the foreground of a close-up shot. Nope, it's really that big.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Hillary tries to dissuade Nick from inquiring further into her personal life.
    Hillary: Some things are much better left unsaid.
    Nick: Like what?
    Hillary: Like when you blow your nose with a tissue and put it in your purse and then later you reach in for your lipstick or something and your hand gushes all over it...
    Nick: You're right. Some things are much better left unsaid.
  • El Spanish O: With pseudo-German. "DAS FENCEN SWITCHEN"
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Parodied, as the Pinto is the only car in the entire film to explode — with the tiniest, most gentle nudge. The military vehicle that crashes into it manages to leave the scene of the accident successfully, despite being on fire. "You've got to hand it to the Germans — they make great cars."
  • Everything's Better With Cows: Two characters infiltrate a top secret facility by dressing as a cow and mingling with the local herd thereof. Cows, that is, not a bunch of idiots dressed like cows. And then a bull comes...
  • Excited Show Title!
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Nick and Hillary manage to combine this with Lost In A Crowd, avoiding a patrol by ducking into a park crowded with couples making out and doing likewise.
  • Fictional Sport: Skeet surfing - combining skeet shooting with surfing (complete with a parodic Beach Boys style surf song) in the opening sequence. This is, of course, as stupidly dangerous as it sounds, with errant shots hitting palm trees, hang gliders, and even passing airplanes.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • The pizza.
    • The pigeon statue.
    • The snacks at the ballet.
    • The headwaiter tailoring a new tuxedo for Nick.
    • The pilot and Resistance members using the RAF emblem on the side of the plane as a dartboard.
  • Gag Sub: The East German national anthem, helpfully translated in subtitles. Double gag in that it's actually a high school fight song.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • In the prison sequence, a sex toy called "The Anal Intruder" is prominently featured. It's astonishing that that was allowed to stay in a PG-rated movie in the 1980's.
    • Hillary measures every inch of The Torch, who is either hung like a stallion, fully erect, or both.
    • Two phallic scenes in a row: Cedric's telescopic antenna and the ballet, the latter of which was bowdlerized for cable. But those ballet dancers are still bouncing off of something...
    • Hillary reads from a trashy romance novel with a blatant reference to impotence and/or premature ejaculation.
  • Gratuitous German:
    • Blinkenlights-style: "Der Pizza Haus" ("Das Pizza-Haus" would be correct German)
    • Also, in the station at the beginning : "Der Zug der jetzt auf Gleis 3 steht.... hat uns alle überrascht!". note 
  • Hollywood Magnetism: Dr. Flammond develops the Polaris magnetic mine. Instead of being attracted to ships and blowing them up like a regular magnetic mine, it's so powerful it drags ships to itself from hundreds of miles away.
  • Hope Spot: The phone conversation about the man Rivers sent to the hospital.
    Streck: What is the condition of Sergeant Kruger? Very well, let me know if there is any change in his condition.
    ((Hangs up, Nick looks relieved)
    Streck: He's dead.
  • I Drank What?: Nick is upset over Hillary carrying a torch for Nigel. Chocolate Mousse passes him a bottle, which he drinks from, followed by a Spit Take.
    Nick: "What the hell is this stuff?"
    Chocolate Mousse: "Gasoline. HAHAHAHAHA." (glug, glug, glug)
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Chocolate Mousse fires a machine gun into a melee and only hits the bad guys. He then gets a high five from a Jive Turkey.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: A Resistance member attempts a noble sacrifice in the barn fight, but alas, everyone else explodes.
  • La Résistance: The French Resistance is in East Germany. We don't know why.
  • Last Minute Reprieve: Nick is so popular that the consulate insists on him giving one last performance before his execution.
  • Lethal Joke Item: The "Anal Intruder" jackhammer-powered dildo.
    German Officer: "What he did not realize was that, in this country, we use 220 volt current. He was found impaled upon a large electrical device. Our surgeons did what they could, but it took them two hours just to remove the smile from his face."
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Nick's father got the idea for his name while he was shaving.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Parodied. It seems that Hillary is consoling Nick for his failure to perform, but it turns out that she's reading a trashy romance novel out loud.
  • Look Behind You: The second variant.
  • Lost In A Crowd: Nick and Hillary hide from German pursuit by mixing with crowd of lovers in a park and making out along with them.
  • Made of Explodium: The Ford Pinto in the field detonates from the slightest tap on the rear bumper. It's the only vehicle in the film that does so.
  • Made of Iron: The guard in the Traintop Battle not only No Sells Cedric's punches, but when he falls prey to the classic "low bridge" kill, the bridge breaks.
  • Made of Plasticine: Parodied. A guard falls off a building, lands on his back, and shatters. (Also counts as a classic Railing Kill)
  • Malt Shop: The heroes visit one, in East Germany, for pizza and beer.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Nick and Hillary discuss the meaning of their respective names over dinner.
      Hillary: "My name is Hillary. It means, 'She whose bosoms defy gravity.'"
      Nick: (after a beat) "My name's Nick."
      Hillary: "Nick! What does that mean?"
      Nick: "I don't know; my father thought of it while he was shaving."
    • Nigel "The Torch" — Hillary carries a torch for him. Also, there is another way to interpret "torch".
    • The Code Names of all of the members of La Résistance are meaningful in some way.
  • Meta Guy: Nick somehow manages to function as the Only Sane Man in this farcical endeavor by calling out the Contrived Coincidence of Hillary meeting her old lover, among other things.
  • Model Planning: What begins as Planning With Props segues into this, with elaborate models and a working train set.
  • The Mole: Someone in the Resistance is feeding the Germans information on their plans and targets. Latrine intercepts a message from this mole outside the pizza house. Suspicion briefly falls on Nick before he can prove his identity. It turns out to be Nigel, who was evidently "turned" during his time with the salvage pirates.
  • National Anthem: The German anthem is parodied by copying a school fight song and making up fake lyrics.
    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.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Skeet surfing. Represented by a song spoofing both "Surfin' USA" and "California Girls".
  • Not so Dire: Nick Rivers is captured and put in prison in East Germany. In the next shot, a clearly unwell Nick is scratching a mark on the cell walls, which seems to show he's been inside for at least 18 days, if not months. His lawyer arrives and Nick says "Thank God you're here. It's been 18 minutes since I was put in here."
  • The One Thing I Don't Hate About You:
    Deja Vu:You've got to hand it to the Germans, they make great cars.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Inverted. The 'cow suit' is really an actual cow with boots on.
  • Pig Latin: The priest: "Ooreyay oingay ootay etgay iedfray in the airchay."note 
  • Planning With Props: The plan to infiltrate Fleurgendorf Prison starts with simple props before graduating to Model Planning.
  • Production Foreshadowing: Val Kilmer and Michael Gough would share the screen again in Batman Forever.
  • Purely Aesthetic Era: While ostensibly set in The Eighties, Nick's Elvis-style shenanigans and the East Germans Putting on the Reich (to say nothing of the French Resistance) conjure a realm that's a pastiche of the early/mid-20th Century.
  • Rule of Funny: The producers snort this and movies come out.
  • Running Gag:
    • "Latrine!"
    • The same German guards keep breaking open the doors... forcing everyone in each instance (including a submarine commander!) to raise their hands in surrender.
  • Salvage Pirates: Leads to gang rape. And an aversion to capitalism. How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard and Freddie Laker.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: To a fireplace. When the couple rolls into view in front of the fireplace, the camera pans again—to another fireplace. In some cuts, the camera eventually pans to a window with a view of a burning building. Further parodied some minutes later when a kiss between the two parachuting protagonists cuts to a fireplace hanging from another parachute.
  • Shout-Out: Too many to name, from The Wizard of Oz to the Beach Boys. One of the weirder ones: The shot of Peter Cushing with the magnifying glass (that turns out not to be one) mimics a scene from the 1965 Brithorror The Skull.
  • Sic 'em: The rubber stamp of "Chopper, sic balls!"
  • Smoking Hot Sex: After the calf blowjob scene, the "cow" is seen smoking a cigarette.
  • Soft Glass: Parodied when a gun gets bent trying to break a window.
  • Surreal Theme Tune: "Skeet Surfin'"
  • This Is Reality: Played with:
    Hillary: I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.
    (Awkward pause. Nick and Hillary look toward the camera, embarrassed.)
  • Those Two Bad Guys: The blind Bruno and the moronic Klaus who only reads the New York Post.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: While the East Germans are primarily portrayed as parodic communist versions of Nazis, there are frequent direct references to them in the sight gags, such as a novelty clock in the malt shop portraying a cartoon Adolf Hitler whose arms are the clock hands, and General Von Streck passing the time by reading "Hermann Goering's Workout Book."
  • Traintop Battle: Parodied hard. The bad guy owes the transit authority a new bridge.
  • Travel Montage: A dotted line makes its way along a streetmap... and is subsequently eaten by Pac-Man.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Chocolate Mousse and Déjà Vu pretend to take Nick prisoner as part of their bid to infiltrate Fleurgendorf prison.
  • Two Men, One Dress: The cow suit has a front and a back end. An argument ensues over who gets to be the asshole.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Nick shows up at the restaurant in casual attire, and is informed by the staff that a coat and tie are required. They proceed to tailor them for him on the spot.
  • Visual Pun: All over the place:
    • A farmer is driving a cart led by a little horse that is coughing:
    Farmer: Oh, he caught a cold the other day, and he is just a little hoarse.
    • During dinner between Hillary and Nick :
    Nick: I'm sorry, I don't speak German.
    Hillary: I know a little German. He's sitting over there.
    (Cue a little man dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes standing up and waving at them)
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Resistance may have rescued the man being forced to build the Polaris Mine, but they left the nearly complete mine behind, along with whatever plans there were. What's keeping the Germans from having someone else finish it and using it at a later date?
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: See This Is Reality, above.
  • X Meets Y: The French Underground meets Elvis.

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