.., Leslie Nielsen Wrestled a Bear? ‘Day of the Animals’ (1977)?
In a quite remarkable scene Hollywood’s favourite bumbling fool Leslie Nielsen has an actual bare knuckle fist fight with a Bear. Prior to his career changing, scene steeling comic turn in Airplane! (1980) (that would lead him down the path to comedy fame and typecasting in 1982s Police Squad and 1988s Naked Gun) Nielsen’s career was largely one of ‘serious’ roles in TV and B-Movies. It’s quite a shock to the system, for those of us most familiar with his iconic buffoon Lt. Frank Drebin, to see Nielsen not only as straight faced heroes but also asshole villains. In the wacky animals attack fest Day of the Animals (well some animals attack but in the end it’s mostly dogs) Nielsen plays the increasingly irritable, volatile, and inexplicably violent Paul Jenson.
When nature fights back Paul goes native, turning from mild mannered hiker into aggresive beater of children and molester of women. Indeed it’s while Paul is in the process of slapping about a teen with one hand and trying to ‘have’ a lady hiker with the other that he is rudely interrupted by one of film’s space-cadet animals.., unfortunately for him it’s a Grizzly Bear. By this point Paul’s red mist has descended to such a degree that he now feels capable of fist fighting anything. In a hilarious mix of man-in-bear-suit, prosthetic bear parts, and an actual live bear (Grizzly substituted with a trained Honey Bear) Nielsen charges, bare chested, into the Bear’s clutches and starts delivering some mighty kidney blows. Talk about manning up. In an epic battle amongst a raging lightning storm poor Paul can’t keep up the fight any longer, finally succumbing to the (Honey) Bear’s tame, friendly, face licking power. Sometimes there are moments in film that defy belief, where the movie itself becomes an historic record in the annals of the bizarre and the ridiculous, and this is certainly one such case. Fantastic.