Forgotten Films: The Nude Bomb (aka The Return of Maxwell Smart)

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With the release of Get Smart starring Steve Carell this weekend, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at the only other Get Smart movie ever to play in theatres: the 1980 flick The Nude Bomb. What’s that you say? Never heard of it? Turns out The Nude Bomb was something of a dud that disappointed at the box office, and in fact it had never been released on DVD until just this week. It definitely qualifies as a Forgotten Film… but is it really as bad as everyone says it is?

The Nude Bomb was originally conceived as a reunion TV movie that would capitalize on the popularity of Get Smart ten years after the series had ended. The only problem is that the whole original cast wasn’t available for said reunion. Ed Platt (The Chief) had passed away in 1974, and Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) didn’t want to take part in the project. With the absence of these two key characters, the producers were forced to make up for it in other ways… for instance, by casting not one, not two, but three female sidekicks for Max (Andrea Howard, Sylvia Kristel, and Pamela Hensley).

They also made the humour a lot more risque, with plenty of sexual innuendos and even some curse words. With all the womanizing that Don Adams does in the film, it left some fans feeling that Maxwell Smart had lost the innocence and naivete that made him so lovable (not to mention the fact that there wasn’t a single word spoken about Agent 99, to whom he was supposed to have been married at this point).

The only other original cast member who returned was Robert Karvelas, as the always dependable Larrabee. The Chief was played by Dana Elcar (best known for his recurring role as Pete Thornton on MacGyver). Ironically, Elcar looks exactly like David Koechner, who is playing Larabee in the new movie.

Although it was planned as a made-for-TV project, in the months leading up to its release, fans began to take an interest in The Nude Bomb and Universal realized that they could make more money if they put it in theatres. In order to make it worthy of the big screen, they took the film out of the hands of the writers who had previously worked on the show, and added some new scenes including a painfully unfunny opening credit sequence that parodies the Bond films. They also added a chase scene through the Universal Studios backlot — a choice that drew a lot of criticism since it was viewed as little more than a 10 minute commercial for the studio tour. Watching it now, however, it is kind of neat to see some of the old attractions featured such as the “Battle of Galactica” animatronic laser show.

There’s no question that this movie is missing a lot of the things that made the Get Smart TV series so good. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry had no involvement, and although writers Leonard Stern and Arne Sultan had previous written for the show, there are a lot of jokes that fall flat and elements that feel out of place (some viewers may also find the lack of a laugh track somewhat off-putting.) That said, it’s not a complete waste of time, and there are some funny moments.

The concept itself is pretty classic; KAOS are threatening to drop a bomb that can destroy all clothing in the world unless the United Nations pays them ten billion dollars a month. They are secretly hoping to become the world’s only supplier of clothing. There are some great visual gags, such as a chase scene with Don Adams driving a motorized desk, and an enemy hideout that has a giant zipper for an entranceway. It’s interesting to note that the VHS release of The Nude Bomb displays the tagline, “Before The Naked Gun… there was The Nude Bomb.” In a lot of ways, this movie did remind me that Get Smart was a precursor to The Police Squad series and The Naked Gun movies, and almost certainly served as inspiration for the comedy team of Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams.

The other thing I found interesting about this film is that a lot of the wacky costumes and the colourful sets stayed true to the 60’s feel of the show, despite the fact that it was released in 1980. At times it reminded me of the 60’s Batman series, which is always a good thing. Last but not least, Don Adams was absolutely spot on as Maxwell Smart; even if the surroundings had changed a bit, he still delivered all his lines with the same brilliant timing and hilarious facial expressions.

Despite some of the redeeming qualities that may be found in retrospect, at the time The Nude Bomb was definitely seen as a disappointment. Fans wondered why Max now worked for PITS (Provisional Intelligence Tactical Service) instead of CONTROL, and felt like their old friends had simply grown apart from them. The movie also had the dubious distinction of being nominated for a Razzie Award in its inaugural year (it didn’t win though… that honour went to Can’t Stop the Music, the Village People biopic).

The Nude Bomb would later air on TV under the name The Return of Maxwell Smart, in order to avoid censorship issues with the title (strange when you consider that there is no real nudity in the movie and it was actually given a PG rating). In 1989, another made-for-TV Get Smart sequel called Get Smart Again! was released, and was much more well received (Barbara Feldon even starred in it). This seemed to erase the bad memories of The Nude Bomb, which perhaps explains why it has remained fairly obscure up until now.

Yeah, The Nude Bomb has its flaws, but it didn’t deserve to stay buried forever. As far as I’m concerned, the movie is still must-see material for fans of the show, and if you can get past the thought of what it should have been, there’s still a halfway decent comedy to be found here.

The Nude Bomb is currently available on DVD courtesy of Universal Home Video.

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  • Matt

    I have faint memories of having seen this movie when I was very, very young. Reading about The Nude Bomb here rekindled my interest, and I will definately re-check it out. Maybe on surfthechannel.com or something.

  • wait… you cancelled your canflix subscription. so that means no more forgotten films articles?

  • Oh no, don’t worry about that. I’m sure I’ll still be able to find plenty to write about.

  • I watched this as a kid and will never forget the motorized desk. What a *great* visual gag.

  • sorry, I don’t get it