Monday, July 6, 2015

1980 Week: Caddyshack

          I’ve never quite understood why Caddyshack is so beloved, even though it features an unusual confluence of comedy actors—notably two generations of Saturday Night Live stars, Bill Murray and his predecessor Chevy Chase—and even though the movie fits into an appealing slobs-vs.-establishment continuum that stretches from Animal House (1978) to Ghostbusters (1984) and beyond. Maybe it’s my disinterest in sports, and maybe it’s my disinterest in stupidity, but the magic of Caddyshack escapes me. That said, it’s fascinating to observe how many different levels of comedy the film contains.
          The main plot, about a working-class caddy who endures rotten treatment from obnoxious country-club members until turning the tables on his oppressors, is satisfying in an obvious sort of way. A secondary thread, about the mano-a-mano competition between nouveau-riche vulgarian Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) and old-money creep Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight), is performed in broad strokes by traditional comedy pros who make no pretense to real acting. Intermingled between these elements are scenes featuring the SNL guys, and that’s where Caddyshack really springs to life. Chase, who has top billing even though he plays a supporting role, is leading-man handsome as he performs at the apex of his charming-smartass skills, so watching him effortlessly render one-liners and sight gags is a kick. Chase only shows up every 20 minutes or so, but he crushes every time. Concurrently, Murray plays his scenes in virtual isolation, rendering a batshit-crazy characterization as a demented groundskeeper waging ultraviolent war against the pesky gopher who’s digging holes in the golf course where most of the movie’s action takes place.
          The irony is that none of these name-brand comedians is the movie’s protagonist. That honor falls to young Michael O’Keefe, so impressive in The Great Santini (1979) and so outgunned by his costars here.
          Cowritten and directed by frequent Murray collaborator Harold Ramis—who cowrote Meatballs (1979) and Ghostbusters, then cowrote and directed Groundhog Day (1993)—Caddyshack employs a scattershot approach to jokes. Some of the lowbrow stuff is embarrassing, such as the gag about a candy bar floating in a pool causing a panic among swimmers who mistake the thing for excrement. And some of the throwaway stuff is great, like the bits with a sleazy caddy supervisor played by Brian Doyle Murray, Bill’s brother and also one of the film’s screenwriters. However, the gulf between Dangerfield’s overbearing joke-a-minute attack and Murray’s sly shaping of a complete mythos is massive. And maybe that’s why fans dig Caddyshack—it’s got something for everyone, except for discriminating filmgoers. As a sidenote, Caddyshack introduced the theme-song artistry of soft-rock star Kenny Loggins, who later created tunes for Footloose (1985) and Top Gun (1986). Oh, and Chase was alone among the stars of the original film to reprise his role in the commercial and critical failure Caddyshack II (1988).

Caddyshack: FUNKY


Hal said...

One big reason CADDYSHACK connected: it was the only real golf comedy of its era. In fact, it was the only major golf comedy (aside from its sequel) that I can think of between 1953's THE CADDY and 1996's HAPPY GILMORE.

Griff said...

Yeah, I've always thought Caddyshack was a bit overrated, it's certainly a bit inconsistent and rough around the edges.

However it still has a lot of funny stuff in it and my dad was around the same age as Michael O’Keefe's character at that time and he says the movie pretty perfectly captures what it was like to be that age at that time.

Kevin Mac said...

For me it is better in my middle-age than when I was a teen. Just something comforting about all the goings-on. Maybe I've seen it too much throughout my life. Being like several movies in one is a good thing here, I think. Almost on accident, there's more than a half dozen stories, goals, and quests in it. So many great, quotable lines, from the last sources you'd expect. Few of Rodney's quips are all that funny, but every utterances by the young, smoking street-tough caddy (forget the actors name) is a gas. But when Rodney hits the radio on his golf bag, and he stars waywardly dancing around to the delight of his suck-up pals, well, that's living, man! Who as a teen didn't want this guy as their dad? Heh, it's not a great movie by any means, but it's comfort food. Fries with chili dumped on top.

James Flood said...

One reason it's so inconsistent is that most Doug Kenney's original script (with more class based humor) was jettisoned in favor of some of the cheap, easy jokes. I still like it but it's definitely overrated. Some believe Kenney was so despondent over the film that he jumped off that cliff in Hawaii.

Great site, by the way. I will be wasting many hours here.

robin said...

"Maybe it’s my disinterest in sports, and maybe it’s my disinterest in stupidity, but the magic of Caddyshack escapes me."

Well said! It's boring. It's hard to make Bill Murray unappealing but...