7 July 2001 | jhclues
"--Oh, there won't be any money, but on your deathbed, you will receive...total consciousness--"
`National Lampoon's Animal House' may have been one of the first comedies to evolve from the `Saturday Night Live' generation, but it could be argued that `Caddyshack,' directed by Harold Ramis-- and which features two SNL alumni, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray-- actually spawned the entire `SNL genre,' of films, because this is the one that seemed to lock in that formulaic irreverence toward all things, of which they are so indicative. The story here revolves around a young man named Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe), a caddy at the upscale Bushwood Country Club, who is bucking for a caddy scholarship to get him into college. Danny figures that the best shot he has at it is to volunteer for the assignment none of the other caddies want-- to caddy for the up-tight Judge Smails (Ted Knight), one of the executive directors of Bushwood, and `kiss up' a bit. Smails responds by letting Danny mow his lawn and attend a christening ceremony for his new yacht. But Danny is not one to be deterred, even when the good Judge tells him `The world needs ditch diggers, too.' He just goes on, keeping his eyes and his options open.
And it isn't long before Danny gets involved with Ty Webb (Chase), an independently wealthy goof-ball with a Zen/Chaplin philosophy of life, whose father was one of Judge Smails' partners in Bushwood. So Danny takes some advice from Ty while caddying for him; advice which just may ultimately have an effect on whether or not he gets his scholarship. Or maybe not. Words of wisdom like `Be the Ball,' and `A donut with no hole is a danish,' may not be what he needs to put him on the fast track to success. But then again, you never know; it's that kind of movie. And there's no getting around it, this is funny stuff.
The humor in this movie runs the gamut from broad to subtle, with at least two sight gags thrown in that identify it as belonging to the genre it helped create. At the time of it's theatrical release, in 1980, it was fairly on the cutting edge of comedy; by today's standards, though, it doesn't seem nearly as irreverent, especially given the digressive trend in the genre lately, which has spewed forth such fare as `Freddy Got Fingered,' and `Road Trip.' Then again, this one had Harold Ramis behind the camera, and Ramis has an acute sense of comedic timing, he knows what works, and he made the most of the basic screenplay (by Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray and Douglas Kenney) and the terrific cast of comedians with which he had to work, all of whom fit so well into the pattern and fabric of this particular picture.
Rarely does a comedy (or any film for that matter) have so many actors who fit their characters so perfectly as in this film, beginning with Chevy Chase, who embodies the slightly skewed and off-center Ty Webb so well it's almost frightening. Webb is a guy who veritably floats through life in a perpetual Zen-like state of distraction, and it makes you realize that there probably really are characters like this walking around in the real world. But if the existence of a Ty Webb type is only highly probable, there's no doubt whatsoever about the fact that there are guys like Al Czervik amongst us.
Rodney Dangerfield plays Czervik, the obnoxious, fun-loving, high-rolling land developer with a specially made golf club and an eye on Bushwood. In Czervik, Dangerfield creates a character who is outrageous, droll, lacks any taste whatsoever, and is entirely hilarious. It is, without question, the best character and performance of Dangerfield's cinematic career, and -- like Chase-- it's almost scary the way he fits into the character so naturally and completely.
The real heart of this movie, however, is Bill Murray, who turns in what just may be the definitive Murray performance with his character, Carl Spackler, the Assistant Greenskeeper at Bushwood. Murray brings Carl, the socially and intellectually challenged man-with-a-plan, to life with subtle nuance and a flare of comedic genius. A lot of what he did in this film was improvised, including much of his two most memorable and hilarious scenes, one in which he's describing his encounter with the Dalai Lama, and the other being his soliloquy of the `Cinderella Boy' on the course at Atlanta. This is truly inspired, funny stuff, and it proves what can be done without resorting to banal vulgarity or crudeness (not that this film is entirely devoid of it, but at least it's tempered here somewhat-- not so overt and in-your-face like you'll often find in some of the more recent offerings of the genre). And there's a harmless shiftiness about Carl, who is about as deep as a pan pizza, and Murray plays it all beautifully.
O'Keefe gives a solid performance, as well, but he's basically the straight man here, the set-up guy for one funny situation after another. And he does it quite nicely.
Also giving memorable performances are Ted Knight, as the rigid, conservative Judge, and Brian Doyle-Murray as Lou Loomis, who oversees the caddies at Bushwood.
The supporting cast includes Sarah Holcomb (Maggie), Scott Colomby (Tony), Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall), Dan Resin (Dr. Beeper), Henry Wilcoxon (The Bishop), Albert Salmi (Mr. Noonan), John F. Barmon Jr. (Spaulding Smails) and Lois Kibbee (Mrs. Smails). With this film, Ramis and company honed the formula for comedy that incorporated pop culture and contemporary sensibilities into it like never before. And `Caddyshack' is an example of it in it's purest form; you'll have to look long and hard to find anything out of this same mold today that can come close to the prototype. It's one of those movies that gets even better with age-- and funnier, too. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.