Andy Griffith spent years developing the down-home country persona that captivated audiences on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock.” Still, playing variations on a theme gets tiresome for even the best actors. So when “The Andy Griffith Show” ended at the height of its popularity in 1968, he was determined to stretch his acting chops.
Griffith went on to play many different types of roles, but perhaps none was weirder — or goofier! — than his appearance in the 1996 James Bond spoof “Spy Hard.”
“Spy Hard” starred Leslie Nielsen as secret agent WD-40 Dick Steele while Andy Griffith played his nemesis General Rancor. At the beginning of the movie, Steele believes Rancor is dead. Instead, Rancor is plotting to take over the world from his secret fortress. Steele teams up with Agent 3.14 Veronique Ukrinsky (Nicollette Sheridan) to stop him, and the movie ends with an explosive showdown.
Nielsen is one of the rare actors whose career had two distinct acts. His earliest roles were in television anthology series such as “The Magnavox Theater” and “Actor’s Studio.” He worked steadily, usually playing serious, dramatic roles like Commander Adams in the sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet” (1956).
All that changed in 1980 when he was 54 and starred in the disaster movie spoof film “Airplane!” Nobody had ever guessed he had great comic skills, but he parlayed that one movie into a whole new career. He starred in one “Airplane”-esque project after another with wildly varying results until his death in 2010.
As for “Spy Hard,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle wrote: “It’s done in the style of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Naked Gun series, but although the style is there, the jokes aren’t. … Nielsen, with his expert deadpan and sense of comic timing, creates the illusion of humor – for about 15 minutes. … Still, he can’t work miracles, and nothing short of a miracle could have made Spy Hard worth seeing.”
Ouch! So maybe just save yourself some trouble, and just watch Leslie Nielsen and Andy Griffith’s climactic good versus evil fistfight in the video clip below.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
After “The Andy Griffith Show,” Griffith sought roles that contrasted with nice guy Sheriff Andy Taylor. One example is “Pray for the Wildcats” (1974). In the made-for-television movie, he played Sam Farragut, a psychopathic business executive who chases his coworkers through the desert on motorcycles after he kills a man. The same year, Griffith played a murderous lawyer who hunts down his desert guide, played by Sam Bottoms, after killing a local prospector in “Savages,” another television movie.
Thankfully for Griffith’s diehard fans, his General Rancor in “Spy Hard” may be evil, but it’s all just for laughs.