Hillary Flammond: I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.
[Long pause. Both look at camera]
Top Secret! (1984) is the third feature-length comedy written by the Zucker Abrahams Zucker team and follow-up to their directorial debut, Airplane!.
Val Kilmer (in his first theatrical role) stars as Nick Rivers, an Elvis-like rock idol sent into East Germany for a goodwill tour. Once there, he is swept up 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.
This movie contains examples of:
- Advertising by Association: The film is advertised as "From the makers of the original Airplane!", followed by a footnote stating "(Not the Wright Brothers)".
- Affectionate Parody: World War II espionage films, and to a lesser extent, Elvis movies. At one point it takes an extended turn into a direct parody of The Blue Lagoon. Also, some of Nick and Hilary's dialogue is taken directly from Casablanca.
- 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 Comment: While the protagonists are in the "Der Pizza Haus", Nigel accuses Nick Rivers of being Mel Tormé, and therefore a traitor. To prove he isn't, Nick sings and dances to the tune "Straighten Out the Rug". After he finishes, one of the Resistance members turns to the camera and says "This is not Mel Tormé!"
- 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.
- 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
- When Nick Rivers is being taken to be executed, the electric chair is activated with an electric switch.
- The electric fence around the castle is turned on and off with one of these.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Hillary literally breaks out a tape measure when she's reunited with Nigel, holding it in a way that implies a spectacular result.
- 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. note
- Blinkenlights-style: "Der Pizza Haus". note
- In the station, at the beginning of the movie : "Der Zug der jetzt auf Gleis 3 steht.... hat uns alle überrascht!". note
- Binocular Shot: Parodied. The herd of cows under observation walk into the "black frame".
- Bird-Poop Gag: Played with. Nick and Hillary walk through a park at night. There's a very large statue of a bird in the background, and when they stop to talk, several men fly down, land on top of and pee on the statue, before zipping up and flying off again. And then when Nick and Hillary walk off camera the bird statue itself takes a large dump right before the scene ends.
- Black Comedy Rape:
- 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.
- Brick Joke
- The Anal Intruder which kills Nick's agent.
- The carrier pigeons carried by the traitor in the resistance Nigel.
- Butt-Monkey: Latrine's job in La Résistance is to be badly hurt and gasp out important messages.
- 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, Détente, Avant-Garde, and Déjà-Vu.
Deja Vu: Haven't we met before, monsieur?
Nick: I don't think so.
Du Quois: Over there, Croissant, Soufflé, Escargot, and Chocolate Mousse. note
- 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.
- In the Spanish dub, for whatever reasons, Chocolate Mousse was changed to Café au Lait.
- Cigar Chomper: Parodied with the badass French resistance member Chocolate Mousse, who's introduced with a cigar in his mouth... which he then eats.
- 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 revealing the carrier pigeons:Latrine: A traitor in our midst... [slams the corpse of a carrier pigeon on the table]
Deja Vu: Good work, Latrine! I see you have dealt with him appropriately.
- Commie Land: Parodied by combining the communists with the Nazis. The East German "national anthem" even includes lyrics about trying to escape not being a bright idea if you value your life.
"Heil, Heil East GermanyLand of vine and grapeLand where you'll regretAny try to escapeNo matter if you take a running jump,Or tunnel under the wallForget it, the guards will kill you—If the electrified fence doesn't first"
- To whit:
- 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...
- Creator Cameo: The three directors, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, play the three guards who arrest Nick in the "prop room".
- Credits Gag: Lots of fake/funny credits ("HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE - THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE", "FOREEZ - A JOLLY GOOD FELLOW", etc.) and Nick and his backup singers show up in the credits to sing.
- Deus ex Machina: Parodied. Nick is about to be executed by firing squad but they get a call that he is allowed to perform his concert that night. They make the call to stop the execution but the only one close enough to the phone is an elderly woman on a walker. Somehow she gets there.
- It helps that the firing squad seems to be distracted by the terrible and overly elaborate arms drilling display they seem forced to perform before actually firing.
- Depth Deception: A telephone looks like it's in the foreground of a close-up shot. Nope, it's really that big.
- Done again with the Swedish bookkeeper. When he pulls a magnifying glass from his eye, it's revealed that his eye is actually enormous.
- 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.
- Dramatic Downstage Turn: While they are parachuting into Flurgendorf Prison, Hillary calls Nick over for a chat. Partway through, she briefly makes a Dramatic Downstage Turn before Nick pulls her back for a kiss.
- 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!
- Facepalm: The Russian opera singer does it when Nick steals his act in the restaurant sequence.
- Fake Band: Val Kilmer did his own singing in all the musical scenes, but you can tell with a casual glance in the ones with an instrument that he isn't actually playing that guitar.
- 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.
- Fearsome Foot: Masterfully parodied in a scene in which Nick is trying to infiltrate a fortress by crawling on the grass. He suddenly stops at the sight of a pair of boots in front of him. Slowly looking up in fear, he then realizes... they're just boots, left alone in the grass.
- Fictional Sport: Skeet surfing — combining skeet shooting with surfing (complete with a parodic The 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.
- Flames of Love: Parodied when Nick and Hillary first fall in love. As they begin kissing, the camera pans over to a romantic fireplace. They roll over in their embrace, in front of the fireplace... and the camera pans to where another fireplace is burning. They roll over again, in front of that fireplace, and the camera pans to yet another fireplace.
- Later, they share a tender kiss while parachuting. The camera pans away from them... to show a fireplace also suspended by parachute.
- Full-Body Disguise: The cow suit. It looks very convincing albeit with human boots on the feet (done by using an actual cow with painted-on spots and boots over her hooves), so good it even fools a calf and a bull.
- Funetik Aksent: There are a couple of banners at Nick's concert that read "Velcome Neek."
- Funny Background Event:
- The pizza.
- The pigeon statue.
- The snacks at the ballet.
- The couple screwing in the crowd 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.
- The multiple fireplaces in the room as Nick and Hillary roll around on the ground. There are at least 3. Shows up as a Running Gag when another one appears near them while they are parachuting, with its own little parachute.
- When the guards come for Nick and Dr. Flammond's in the doctor's room they tell them to put their hands up, the captain of the sub the mine dragged in also pops a hatch and raises his hands.
- As the train pulls away in East Germany, it can be seen that the platform is being pulled away, while the train itself doesn't move.
- While pretending to be German soldiers in order to free Dr. Flammond, Chocolate Mousse and Du Quois goosestep so hard, their boots go flying off.
- Gag Sub: The East German national anthem, helpfully translated in subtitles. Double gag in that it's actually a high school fight song (Shorewood High School in Wisconsin).
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- In the prison sequence, a sex toy called "The Anal Intruder" is prominently featured.
- 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: Overlaps with Bilingual Bonus.
- 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.
- Hypocritical Humor: Déjà Vu consoles Nick over the possible loss of his love interest that adversity is a part of life; what is important is learning to deal with it "in a mature and adult fashion." He then promptly sneezes, and overreacts in the most immature fashion imaginable to getting snot all over his hands.Déjà Vu: AAAAaaAAaAaAaaaAAAaaAAaAAhhHh-- [runs across the room in a panic and crashes through a window]
- 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."My man!"
- Jumping on a Grenade: A Resistance member attempts a noble sacrifice in the barn fight, but alas, everyone else explodes.
- Knife Nut: Parodied by an unnamed member of La Resistance wearing a bandoleer of expensive silverware.
- 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.Streck: "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.
- Low Clearance: Two men are fighting atop a train. One of them sees a bridge, and ducks. The other doesn't, causing the bridge to be destroyed.
- 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: In the Traintop Battle, Kruger not only No Sells Cedric's punches, but when he falls prey to the classic "low bridge" kill, the bridge breaks. He then dies in a self-inflicted Railing Kill later on.
- 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:
- 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.
- Moving Buildings: Nick Rivers is aboard a train. It appears to pull away from the station, but as we look out the train's window we see that the station has pulled away from the train.
- National Anthem: The German anthem is parodied by copying a school fight song (Shorewood High School in Wisconsin) 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 is captured and put in prison in East Germany. In the next shot, a clearly unwell Nick is scratching the twentieth mark on the cell walls. His manager arrives and Nick says "Thank God you're here. It's been 20 minutes already!."
- Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: While Nick Rivers is fighting Nigel in the underwater bar, in the background the barkeeper can be seen polishing a glass with a cloth.
- Off-the-Shelf FX: Inverted. The 'cow suit' is really an actual cow with boots on.
- The One Thing I Don't Hate About You:Deja Vu: You've got to hand it to the Germans, they make great cars.
- Oral Fixation: Du Quois is constantly chewing on a toothpick in every scene he's in. At one point, during a gunfight, he nervously throws the toothpick away — and immediately pulls another one from behind his ear.
- 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.
- Later that year, Lucy Gutteridge and Michael Gough also both had minor roles in the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol.
- Purely Aesthetic Era: While ostensibly set in The '80s, 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.
- Reckless Gun Usage: Responsible gun handling and skeet surfing are mutually exclusive concepts, which the song's music video makes perfectly clear. The targets of stray shots include a palm tree, a hang-glider, and an airplane.
- Rewind Gag: There's a scene in which the characters speak Swedish, except it's actually English recorded backwards. The entire scene was filmed in reverse, which becomes more obvious as it goes along.
- Running Gag:
- 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, its someone who reads Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard and Freddie Laker.
- Scary Black Man: Chocolate Mousse is a parody of a Scary Black Man, doing such "classically" badass things as eating a cigar, drinking gasoline, and wielding a front-loader cannon as a sidearm. He's also an impossibly good shot with a machine gun.
- 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: A whole lot. Some include:
- The Wizard of Oz during the farewell scene.
- "Skeet Surfin'" is a shoutout to The Beach Boys and similar surf music.
- 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.
- Hillary's backstory is a spoof of The Blue Lagoon
- Nick's motorcycle ride (with jumps over a fence, and later a line of buses) heavily resembles The Great Escape. Except for the bus jumping, of course.
- Is it a coincidence that Hillary seems to be a visual expy of Ilsa Lund from Casablanca?
- 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.
- Something Else Also Rises: Agent Cedric is stuck inside a car crushed into a cube by a car crusher/compacter. After he gets to Hillary Flammond's room, he tells her that a ballet ticket is inside the car's glove compartment. As she leans across the cube to open it, her breasts fall across his face and the car's radio antenna extends into the air.
- Spiteful Spit: After the East German general tells Nick Rivers that his manager is dead and that no one will be coming to save him, Nick spits across the room in the general's face.
- Spy Speak: Used on multiple occasions by characters as a Sign/Countersign.Agent Cedric: Do you know any good white basketball players?Blind Man: There are no good white basketball players, my friend.Hillary: Who do you favor in the Virginia Slims Tournament?Blind Man: In women's tennis, I always root against the heterosexual.Hillary: My father is Dr. Paul FlammondBookstore Owner: I'm sorry. I don't know a Dr. Flammond.Hillary: He told me you may have a book of Swedish poems by Von Brieson.Bookstore Owner: So you are Hillary Flammond!
- 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."
- Time Marches On: Some jokes and plot points have aged rather poorly.
- East Germany ceased to exist in 1989.
- Early on Nick threatens to put General Streck on the Montgomery Ward catalog mailing list, the company went bankrupt in 2001.
- Hillary provides the blind man with a letter that must reach New York by Tuesday, that he later burns to keep out of enemy hands - a Publisher's Clearing House letter. Publisher's Clearing House stopped sending adverts by mail in the early 2010s.
- Amusingly, the election of reality TV star Donald Trump in 2016 means that Hillary's comment about actors becoming President in the finale is still relevant more than a decade after the death of Ronald Reagan.
- 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.
- It must be mentioned that Chocolate Mousse is a black man, wearing a German soldier's uniform, in a German prison. The guards seem to notice this discrepancy, yet not one says a word, due to Chocolate Mousse being a Scary Black Man.
- Two Men, One Dress: The cow suit has a front and a back end. An argument ensues over who gets to be the asshole.
- Ugly Slavic Women: A variant on this theme, when they comically present the "East German Women's Olympic Team" (East Germany being a vassal state of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russia), looking like male bodybuilders in drag; a reference to the fact that the East German women atheletes were given testosterone to make themselves better athletes (and therefore appeared manlier).
- 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:
Farmer: Oh, he caught a cold the other day, and he is just a little hoarse.
- A farmer is driving a cart led by a little horse that is coughing:
Nick: I'm sorry, I don't speak German.
- During dinner between Hillary and Nick :
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)
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve: The Resistance leader "The Torch" tells Nick Rivers that at exactly midnight a truck will arrive at the restaurant they're in and drive him to the East German border.
- 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?
- In some cuts of the film, Omar Sharif's character and Streck vanish from the film. A scene in which Sharif (still trapped in the remains of his car!) gets revenge on Streck by smashing his car in the junkyard exists in some versions, answering this question.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: See This Is Reality, above.
"And I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow!"