CADDYSHACK

By Marc S. Sanders

Do you think in 10 years or even 50 years from now, people will remember that Harold Ramis was one of the funniest writers in film history? Animal House, Stripes, Scrooged, Groundhog Day (I hate it, but I won’t deny its legacy every February 2nd), and Ghostbusters. One film that cemented the stage for his success in the 1980s is arguably Caddyshack, which focuses on the snobs vs slobs at a high-end golf country club known as…ahem…Bushwood. It’s okay to laugh. Your mother is not in the room.

Caddyshack is more or less a vehicle for the comedic talents of Saturday Night Live players to put out their best material seemingly made up on the fly. Bill Murray is the demented grounds keeper tasked with getting rid of a damaging gopher. Chevy Chase seems to be the charmer with a delivery of wit in every word he says. He’s more or less good looking here but just as deliberately stupid as everyone else. Rodney Dangerfield goes beyond his stand-up routines, or maybe he doesn’t. He’s just shoved into the film and let loose to anger and harass the head snob, Ted Knight. Knight is unquestionably the best of the bunch here. He’s got such great timing with his outbursts and delivery. I even love how he pronounces the car maker Audi. It’s more like “ottie.”

Ramis has a thin storyline about one caddy (Michael O’Keefe) trying to win a college scholarship. Meh. So what! Caddyshack works best when it’s just playing for skits and raw laughs. There’s gross out comedy like doodie in the swimming pool, compliments of a Baby Ruth candy bar, and vomiting in cars. Dangerfield’s one liners are fast and loose. The judge’s daughter is a sly minx for the dweeby male cast to ogle, and the gopher footage with Murray is straight out of Looney Toons. I do love the irony of the Catholic priest going out to play 9 holes in the middle of an electrical storm; a prophet who will spit in the face of God. “OH RAT FARTS!!!!”

Caddyshack is not my favorite of Ramis’ films, but it’s become a touchstone in comedy quotes and repeat viewings. It’s stupid and coarse and silly and belongs nowhere in the Parthenon of great filmmaking efforts but it’s a favorite of almost anyone’s for how brash it truly is. It’s an R rated interpretation of The Three Stooges. If not for nothing, I’m sure that somewhere there is an esteemed judge of the cloth who was proud to sentence young men to the gas chamber as a means of “owing it to them.”

Harold Ramis with co-writer Brian Doyle Murray (Bill’s brother) conceived of Caddyshack as a push back against that system of order. Well done, men. Tee up!

STRIPES

By Marc S. Sanders

A trifecta of talent was widely received when Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman came on the Hollywood scene. With films like Meatballs and Animal House, they were toeing the line of B movie T&A material. Audiences, however, responded to the wisdom in the comedic potential of disregarding the authoritative party. That is especially true in their R rated army romp from 1981, Stripes.

Stripes is arguably not their most memorable film of any of their careers, but for me it is probably my favorite; more than Caddyshack or Ghostbusters. The comedy was spot on, and the timing was perfect. When John Winger and Russell Zisky (Murray & Ramis) decide to enlist in the army on a spur of the moment, their basic training experience is actually believable. It could happen. I could relate. If I was as big a guy as John Candy, playing the lovable “Ox,” and I was running the obstacle course, yeah…I might run off course uncontrollably into the outer woods. All these guys are completely out of shape. There’s no way we were ever gonna see Rambo here.

Bill Murray might be the leader of this rag tag gang of miscreants, but his own material is just very, very funny. Few comedies have such a hilarious opening scene as he does while he escorts a snobby woman to the airport in his cab. He has enough of her, and so everything is put out on the table. The Three Stooges would have smacked a pie in this woman’s face. John Winger decides to terrify her with some action photos while he drives. To date, no one has ever come close to duplicating this scene.

Winger continues with his rebellion against his Drill Sargent played by Warren Oates who is terrific in his own right. Oates convincingly comes off as straight army material amid all of these nitwits. He can give a facial expression that says a thousand words.

John Candy is a huge highlight in perhaps his breakthrough cinematic performance. Ramis and Reitman wrote a great character in Ox. I think it’s hilarious that a fat guy thinks the most ideal way to lose weight is to join the army because it’s free with a six to eight week work program. We all love to see that it eventually occurs to Ox that basic training in the Army is not exactly a weight watchers program. A major highlight is when Winger rushes Ox into a mud wrestling ring at an adult club. Pure slapstick fun. You can’t help but laugh.

I’m surprised to see that many took issue with the film’s second half. I loved it as the platoon has to pursue Winger and Ziskey who have a special puke green colored RV that the army has engineered with more weaponry than a James Bond car. Eventually, this leads to a ridiculous rescue within a Russian occupied Czechoslovakian outpost. It’s a great blend of action and comedy that holds up nearly 40 years later. What’s not to like?

I’ll be honest. I saw Stripes when I was 10 or 11, and it actually gave me an education on the current life of what it’s like to be in the Army. Having never enlisted, I’m nevertheless convinced that Warren Oates was an accurate interpretation of what a hard driven Drill Sargeant was like. Because it seemed so genuine. It seemed only fitting that a great comedy could be drawn from resisting that kind of authority. The material in Stripes didn’t come off silly or Looney Tunes like. It all seemed natural. The jokes just came alive amid the challenges of entering the Army life.

Stripes remains a favorite comedy of mine.

MEATBALLS

By Marc S. Sanders

Director Ivan Reitman with Bill Murray and writer Harold Ramis made a fantastic team. Their summer camp comedy, Meatballs, from 1979 is not one of the all-time greats but it’s still a fun romp through the life of young campers peddled off under the supervision of teen counselors for eight weeks.

Meatballs works as an excuse to allow Bill Murray to break free from his SNL restraints and allow his off the cuff humor to improv its way through. As the head counselor named Tripper, Murray gives hilarious loudspeaker announcements about the cafeteria lunch or daily activities. He also uses his CITs, with names like Spaz, Crockett and Fink to carry Morty (“Hi Mickey!”) the camp manager who’s sleeping in his bunk out into the woods, or the lake or high up in a tree for his morning wake up surprise. This is all Animal House lite.

A touching secondary story involves a lonely teen camper named Rudy (Chris Makepeace) to bond with Tripper. Though I enjoyed my summer camp days, I was much like Rudy, not an athlete. I was a fast runner though, and Tripper with the Bill Murray personality builds Rudy’s confidence during the film leading up to the climactic inter camp big race. It’s not necessarily a well-rounded storyline. It tidies itself up pretty neatly by the end, but it’s a break from the material shenanigans, in between. Look, even a film like Meatballs needs some semblance of story somewhere.

The fun comes in brief skits with Meatballs. There’s sing along songs like “Are You Ready For The Summer?” and the campfire favorite “We’re The North Star CITs!” There’s the hot dog eating contest, Spaz’ spoon water relay and the basketball game against the wealthy, neighboring camp who can’t keep their shorts up.

Meatballs is a movie that would be shot with better quality on an iPhone today, but the dated camp days of the late ‘70s remain cherished here, before we became reliant upon technology. It’s a time where we depended on the outdoors, without mom and dad, and getting into harmless trouble while making new friends and discovering our freedom and ourselves.

The original Meatballs still has some material that’s worth a watch, and it still makes me yearn for my cabin bunk days. It’s nice to reminisce and it’s all just fun.