The saying goes there are no small roles and profiled in this post is one of those occasions where that was certainly proven to be true.
The premise is brilliant in itself, Lt Franklin Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) of Police Squad gives chase to a criminal as he drives away. Commandeering a vehicle a classic car chase ensues but with a twist – Drebin has unwittingly commandeered a driving instructor’s car with a student behind the wheel.
The student is called Stephanie (Winifred Freedman) and to give you an indication of how small the role is, the character is listed as Stephie on IMDB coming in 14th of the cast list but there are many people to this day who if you ask them about Stephanie from The Naked Gun will know who you are talking about.
Several things may have contributed to this, while the premise is great the filmmakers don’t rely on it. Plenty more visual gags are included and Stephanie has a fully formed character arc. Nervous at first and lacking confidence as a learner driver Stephanie faces a challenge, comes through it a changed person and then even proves victorious in an ultimate showdown. A standard 3 act story. She gets a few goofs but a genuine belly laugh is created by an unexpected and drawn out action that every learner driver will eventually learn to execute. For a sequence that runs less than 3 minutes Stephanie gets mentioned by name at least 3 times, another great way to make her stick in the mind quickly. It is arguably one of the best scenes in the film too, good comedy comes from truth and a car chase while a heightened reality still touches upon the nerves and journey of all learner drivers which most people experience being at some point.
It should be noted that the driving instructor was played by Oscar Winner John Houseman a former collaborator of Orson Welles and a producer in his own right as well as an actor. Most famously known now for The Paper Chase. He appeared uncredited in The Naked Gun and it was last film role before sadly passing away aged 86. According to IMDB, Winifred Freedman is still working today and has over 47 acting credits to her name including small parts in The Fabulous Baker Boys, Evolution and The Last American Virgin. Perhaps this is her most famous performance but we salute he for her whole body of work including her wonderfully realised Stephanie.