Top Secret! (1984)

top secret

“Déjà vu, I will always remember you.”

The Scoop:  1984, rated PG, starring Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Michael Gough

Tagline:  From the makers of the original Airplane!

Summary Capsule: A parody of WWII spy movies in which an American rock and roll singer becomes involved in a Resistance plot to rescue a scientist imprisoned in East Germany.


Joel’s rating:  4 Polaris mines out of 5

Joel’s review: “I’ve been on the trail for days now and almost thought I had lost it.  A new document has dropped right into my lap; a DVD that may or may not have all the information I seek.  I will now watch this film to see its relevance in my investigation.”

Synopsis:  Sometime after World War II, very Nazi-like officials of East Germany are working to build a weapon that will bring power back to the Communists (might as well be the Reich).  As part of a public relations event, a 50’s style rock and roll icon Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) will perform in the nation.  By accident, Nick becomes involved with a resistance movement and emotionally involved with Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge) , who is part of the resistance and whose father (Michael Gough) is building the weapon against his will (what a coincidence!).  At first, Nick is hesitant but soon throws his hat in with the resistance (and every other part of him as well) to rescue Hillary’s daddy.   During the adventure, Nick and Hillary stand together against spies, soldiers, her ex-lover, a mole in the resistance, a little German, a pinto, a huge bull, an underwater bar room brawl…oh, just go watch the movie!

“Note:  I’ve watched the first part of the disc and I have learned something terrible.  The Nazi sympathizers have soldiers that can break through stone bridges without injury!  I must inform my superiors!”

Top Secret!, to me, is a gem of a movie.   It was written and directed by Jim Abraham and the Zucker Brothers, the same guys that created Airplane and The Naked Gun movies, and it has the same kind of zany slapstick stunts and silly but often clever word gags of the other films.  Top Secret has never had the viewership and popularity of its brothers, though.  I’m not sure I understand why, although the clichés riffed on in the other films are likely more recognizable in those films than in Top Secret.

From the moment it begins, Top Secret! Is a non-stop conveyor belt of jokes.  Some of them are funnier than others, but the movie fires them at you at such rapid speed that most people should at least chuckle, and some of them will make you laugh out loud.  There is a plot and story here, but let’s face it, it is just a premise to hang the comedy off of, like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon extended to a full length movie.  It is a fun movie and easily as quotable at its brethren.

“Ok, what I’m seeing seems to be historical documentation of events from the 1950’s about a secret German weapon.  I’m still looking for more pertinent information…wait, was that Gran Moff Tarkin?”

The main story crosses World War II type spy movies with an Elvis movie, and Val Kilmer’s performance here is pretty surprising.  In many of his other roles, he was almost wooden, not really moving around much.  I mean, even in Batman, the action scenes were edited together clips, not as much choreographed fight scenes.  Here, though, he performs several song and dance numbers with all the energy of a teenager trying to impress his friends.  There are scenes where you can tell he is doing his own stunts, too, at least some of them.  Some of the other actors do not throw themselves quite as much into their roles, but the whole thing comes together quite well.  And there are several very catchy songs during the movie, in the style of Elvis, The Beach Boys, Doo-Wop, and more.  Even better, there is little or no profanity (I don’t remember any), no nudity (some suggestive humor, though), and the violence is very cartoonish and not graphic, so you don’t have to worry about kids watching or walking into the room.   As with most of these kind of silly films, cameos abound with names like Omar Sharif and Peter Cushing making appearances.

“I’m almost to the end and I’ve written very precise notes on the information presented, but I’m not sure exactly how this document relates to my case.  It…Credits?  IT’S A MOVIE?!?  I’m going to find who sent this to me and…well, at least it wasn’t bad.”

It is hard to know what else to say about it besides list some of the gags (which are below!  Heh!).  If you like silly comedy, especially movies like Airplane, The Naked Gun, Mel Brooks films, or even Monty Python, odds are very good that you will love Top Secret!  If you hate the above mentioned movies or just didn’t get them, you likely will feel the same about this one.  Me, overall I love Top Secret!  I hope some of you out there will too, if you don’t already!

"You better watch yourself, buddy.  I'm keeping my EYE on you."
“You better watch yourself, buddy. I’m keeping my EYE on you.”


  • Val Kilmer has had a pretty good career in films.  Top Secret! Is his very first starring role.
  • Val and Michael Gough worked together again as Bruce Wayne and Alfred in Batman Forever.
  • Not only did Val dance in the musical scenes, but he sang every song that ‘Nick’ sings.  Not a bad voice!
  • There are a lot of fake credits at the end.  You have to watch and read for a few final gags.
  • While Nick is being led to the electric chair, the Priest says in Pig Latin, “You are going to fry in the chair.”
  • Look for spoofing of The Blue Lagoon, western movies, The Wizard of Oz, and The Dirty Dozen.
  • Jim Abraham and the Zucker Brothers make cameos as German soldiers who break into the theater prop room to arrest Nick.
  • Rumor has it that the Zucker Brothers, as a practical joke, had Val learn to actually play the guitar, but then had him pretend to play in a comical fashion when actually filming.
  • Pay close attention to the ballet scene.  I can’t really describe it, it would lose its impact.
  • Also look for the execution scene.  It really seems like a homage to Monty Python to me.

Groovy Quotes:

1) Nick, singing the song ‘Skeet Surfing’: “Sharing sunsets with my favorite girl/When we shoot the curl, we really shoot the curl.”

2)Nick Rivers: “Martin, I’ve been practicing. How this? (In German)  Ist Ihr Tochter achtzehn, bitte?”

Nick’s manager, Martin: “What does that mean?”

Nick Rivers: “Is your daughter eighteen?”

3) Hillary Flammond: “My uncle was born in America.”

Nick Rivers: “Oh, really?”

Hillary Flammond: “But he was one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape in a balloon during the Jimmy Carter presidency.”

4) Nick Rivers: “Listen to me, Hillary. 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 Flammond: ”I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.”

[Long pause. Both look at camera]

5) East German National Anthem, sung by crowd with English subtitles:  “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.”

6) Nick Rivers: “Hillary. That’s an unusual name.”

Hillary Flammond: “It’s a German name. It means ‘she whose bosoms defy gravity’.”

Nick Rivers: ”I’m pleased to meet you. My name’s Nick.”

Hillary Flammond: “Nick? What does that mean?”

Nick Rivers: “Oh, nothing. My dad thought of it while he was shaving.”

7) General Streck, German High Command: [talking on the phone] “What is the condition of Sergeant Kruger?”  [pause]  “ Very well, let me know if there is any change in his condition.”  [Hangs up]  “He’s dead.”

8) Du Quois: “Well, Mr. Rivers, it seems that you have become, how do you say, indispensable? ‘

Nick Rivers: Indispensable.”

Du Quois: “That’s what I thought.”

(honestly, this is just a smattering of the funny lines in Top Secret!  There is something quotable in almost every minute of the movie.)

If you liked this, try these:

  • Airplane!
  • From the Files of Police Squad:  The Naked Gun
  • Spaceballs

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