Police Academy (1984)

You may not know the name Hugh Wilson, but you probably know his work. He created WKRP in Cincinnati, Frank’s Place and The Famous Teddy Z, plus he directed The First Wives ClubBurglarBlast from the Past and Guarding Tess.

He was the director of the first Police Academy, a film that every movie this week is really all about.

Producer Paul Maslansky got the idea for the film while making The Right Stuff, as he watched a gang of mismatched police cadets getting screamed at by a sergeant. He claims that the group was “an unbelievable bunch-including a lady who must have weighed over 200 pounds and a flabby man of well over 50. I asked the sergeant about them, and he explained that the mayor had ordered the department to accept a broad spectrum for the academy. “We have to take them in and the only thing we can do is wash them out.””

Boom. Police Academy.

The mayor wants to improve the police force, so he asks that the academy accept willing recruits, regardless of gender, body weight, skin color or age.

One of those unwilling recruits is Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), the everyman who we follow throughout the first of these movies and their sequels. He keeps getting in trouble for standing up to authority and his father’s friend Chief Hurst — out of respect for a fellow cop — demands that Mahoney either go to police academy or prison. Mahoney agrees if he can bring along a noisemaking man he just met, Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow).

Guttenberg was made for this, as just like his character, his father was a cop.

Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey, an enemy cop in nearly every one of these films) wants to wash the candidates out. Mahoney wants to quit. And when he’s not daydreaming, Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) wants his cadets to do well.

As I always say, hijinks ensue. Mahoney sends the two mean cadets to a gay bar called The Blue Oyster that I promise you, most Japanese people still use as a cultural touchstone for what gay bars look like. Hightower (Bubba Jones) is protective of the quiet Hooks (Marion Ramsey). Tackleberry (David Graf) loves guns. Leslie Barbara is chubby. George Martin is a ladies man. Douglas Fackler (Bruche Mahler) is accident-prone.

Pretty much every character gets a one-note that they will use for the rest of the film if not the rest of the series. But hey — it’s honestly really funny. Maybe it’s because I was twelve when I first saw it. Or it could be that I’m still twelve inside.

For the first film, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Debbie Callahan isn’t on the side of the good guys, but she will be soon. And Georgina Spelvin from The Devil In Ms. Jones has a memorable cameo.

The Police Academy movies often feature people before they become famous and then are sore spots on their resumes. For this movie, that person would be Kim Cattrall, who plays Mahoney’s love interest. She will not be the last big star to wander into these films, often in one of their first starring roles.

I also love that the “shoe polish on the megaphone” came from a prank played on British director Michael Winner (Death Wish, The Sentinel) on the set of one of his movies.

President Bill Clinton told Guttenberg that this was one of his favorite movies, and that watching the films helped him through a difficult time. We can only assume that this was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I wonder how hard he laughed at the oral sex joke.

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