My wife and I became permanent residents of Canada three years ago, and now that enough time has passed, we've applied for citizenship. To bone up for the test that we'll need to take in a few months, we downloaded the study guide: Discover Canada, The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. In it, I've found a treasure trove of information about Canada that I was never aware of. For example, did you know that Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, and that female genital mutilation is prohibited here? This all came as a huge relief, but then I started wondering why male genital mutilation wasn't mentioned. Should I be worried? So I called the information desk at the Parliament building for clarification, and they assured me that there really are just three territories.
Even so, I'm skeptical of their spin on history. Why all this fuss over Samuel de Champlain and Mackenzie King while not a word about illustrious Canadians like William Shatner or Alex Trebek? Would you write a fifty page summary of American history and not mention Larry Storch and Sammy Petrillo? Of course you wouldn't. And that's why I have to wonder whether these Canadians have their antlers on straight. You might ask, assuming you aren't already comatose from reading this, why would anyone want to be a Canadian citizen? Well, it's because there are some advantages that you don't get with mere permanent residency.
First of all, you get to vote, which for an American immigrant means you get to choose from a list of dishonest imbeciles who aren't quite as dishonest or imbecilic as the people usually found on an American ballot. Sure, they're still imbeciles, but a lot of them happen to speak French, which means I have a really hard time understanding them, making them substantially less annoying than their American counterparts.
Second, Canadians can take a vacation to Cuba. Since Americans live in the land of the free, they can be fined $10,000 for taking a vacation in Cuba. But if Americans still want a nice getaway, the State Deparment will let them visit friendly allies like Saudi Arabia, where they can witness public decapitations. Unfortunately, the arroz con pollo isn't as good, and if you have a beer, you'll probably be flogged in public. Bon voyage.
Third, once you're a Canadian citizen, you can come and go as you please without losing your residency. Practically speaking, this isn't a big deal, since you only need to spend two out of every five years on Canadian soil to remain a permanent resident. But suppose I wanted to spend 1,096 consecutive days meditating in a Norwegian yurt, retaining my urine for unnatural durations as a spiritual rite of passage? Now I think you can understand where I'm coming from.
So I was reading my study guide, trying to figure out what questions might be on the test, when the sad news hit that Leslie Nielsen, one of Canada's many great film stars, had just passed. I've always liked Nielsen, more for his pre-comedic roles than for the Naked Gun movies he became better known for. Although he moved to the United States like most Canadian film stars, not many people know he enlisted as an aerial gunner in the Royal Canadian Airforce, while John Wayne was using his movie star status to get a draft deferral from World War II. These facts are also suspiciously absent from the Discover Canada citizenship guide, but they do mention that there's a beaver on the Saskatchewan coat of arms. Since Leslie Nielsen hailed from Regina, Saskatchewan, I interpret this as an encoded subliminal message from the Canadian government: "We think Leslie Nielsen kicked major ass."
So in his honor, I got out one of my favorite Leslie Nielsen films, Dayton's Devils, a low budget, late 60s action thriller that probably seemed like a good gig around the time he was doing guest shots on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Gunsmoke. Strangely, Rory Calhoun gets top billing even though Nielsen plays the lead role of Frank Dayton, a sociopathic, woman slapping, military reject with anger management issues, who wants to take revenge on his former employer by robbing an Air Force payroll office. To do this, he puts together a peculiar group of professional criminals, played by Calhoun, Georg Stanford Brown, Lainie Kazan, Eric Braeden, and Sergeant Barry Sadler. Brown you might recognize from Roots, and Sadler was best known for his creepily nationalistic pop single The Green Berets, which managed to dislodge The Beatles from the top of the Billboard charts for five weeks in 1966. In the late seventies, Sadler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and in the eighties he was himself murdered in Guatemala City amidst rumors that he was helping to train Nicaraguan contras. I mention this only because it's not in the Canadian citizenship guide.
An absurd sexual tension develops between Calhoun and Kazan, providing a good chunk of the film's more delightfully inane dialogue. Kazan is also a nightclub singer, and she inflicts a painful version of Sunny in a sleaze pit of a bar while aping Barbra Streisand and flaunting her intimidating cleavage. There's lots of brief montage sequences of the menfolk in gray sweatsuits doing jumping jacks as part of their "brutal" training regimen, and a pre-M.A.S.H. Mike Farrell appears in one scene as a suspicious air force officer. Nielsen's fool proof heist also involves everybody fleeing to the ocean to put on scuba gear and hiding in the water, as if the authorities would just give up looking for a couple million dollars of stolen money after an hour or two. If any of Dayton's Devils complain that maybe his plan isn't really fool proof, and is, in fact, incredibly fucking stupid, Leslie gets really pissed off and says he's sick and tired of everyone's belly-aching. It's all dumb, badly written, and badly edited, but it's exactly the kind of drive-in era schlock that always floats my boat, the cinematic equivalent of a Stouffer's chicken pot pie.
A few years later, before his career took off with the comedy schtick in Airplane, Nielsen made another action drama called Project Kill that shows up from time to time in dollar movie bins and is also worth a look. It was made in the Philippines and has people like Vic Diaz, so it's probably a few notches higher on the weirdness scale. I used to have a copy, but it's mysteriously missing, and I can't help but wonder whether the Canadian government is already testing me with cruel psychological experiments. Perhaps my commitment to Leslie Nielsen is being used to gauge my commitment to Canada. If so, I think they'll soon learn that they've got themselves one very faithful new Canadian.