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!

MICHAEL CLAYTON

By Marc S. Sanders

The corporate world can be murder sometimes.  Just ask a well known “fixer” like Michael Clayton. 

George Clooney plays the title role that’ll leave your head spinning while watching the film, and thereafter keep you thinking about how frighteningly true much of what you’ve seen, in this fictional account from master writer Tony Gilroy, could potentially be all too real.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer who does not practice law but rather “fixes” sticky situations for his law firm.  When the lawyers of the firm don’t have enough imagination to swindle their client from bearing responsibility or surrendering to guilt, they turn to Michael.  Michael will know what to do.  Ironically, Gilroy’s script (which is also his directorial debut) will have you believe that Clayton is at career mid life crisis moment where he understands that nothing really can be fixed or simply swept under the rug.  Not even money can buy any of us out of a guilty situation when there’s nothing to work with but the black and white facts of actual guilt.  Early on in the film, Michael explains to an aggravated high-priced client that there’s no getting out of the fact that a late night hit and run is nothing else but a late night hit and run.  Can’t undent a car.  Can’t bring a bicyclist back to life.  Can’t fix what is permanently broken.

Moving on to the main storyline will demonstrate the same ideal.  If knowing admission of guilt and wrong doing is documented on paper in plain English, then there’s no getting around this.  Moreover, there’s no getting around the fact that one of the best lawyers in Michael’s firm, played expertly by Tom Wilkinson, is consciously arrested in his own guilt of ethics violation.  To be considered one of the greatest lawyers in the country, would you factor in how to squeak out a win at no costs, or would it be when you can accept that your own client is guilty of wrongdoing and help them from that point?  I don’t know.  I’m not a lawyer.  The point is that Tony Gilroy implies that Wilkinson’s character, Arthur Eden, was once considered among his peers one way to in order to earn the reputation he has, and then another way when perhaps that reputation was based on actions not so honorable.  As Arthur struggles with this conundrum, maybe it’s only telling that his wealthy corporate client, an environmental weed killer manufacturer and his law firm colleagues easily think it’s nothing like that.  Arthur must be literally losing his mind.  It’s the only explanation.  He’d have to be to strip his clothes off in the middle of a witness deposition and later run after the witness in a freezing cold parking lot, while stark naked.

The pawn of the corporate client is represented by a shark named Karen Crowder (a brilliant Tilda Swinton, putting on the American Ivy League grad persona).  Karen is only insecure in how capable she’s actually considered when behind her closed doors.  She nervously practices what she will say at presentations for the corporation or interviews that hold her client in the highest regard.  She’s also desperate to maintain a calm and unpanicked appearance of this firm who clearly caused the death of many people that were exposed to their product.  Karen will make certain this knowledge never sees the light of day.  Karen talks to her mirror while stuttering over her lines.  By the way, if Karen is so confident in what her corporate client stands for, then would she even have a stutter to begin with?  This is where Tilda Swinton is great with Gilroy’s script.  What she knows would be the death of her career, but then again, this is her career we are talking about here. 

Tony Gilroy’s script is deliberately muddied in its first act.  Random scenes that carry no relevance to one another occur.  Michael sits at an underground poker table. Arthur spews off endless speeches that give a voice to madness. An army of lawyers led by a shrewd Sydney Pollack are up late at night sifting through piles and piles of documents.  Karen talks to herself while smoothing out the wrinkles of her suit while getting dressed in the morning.  Then a car explodes, and the movie sends us back in time to four days prior.  This might seem frustrating on a first viewing, but I urge anyone interested in seeing the film to be patient.  Gilroy demonstrates that if crime truly occurs within the offices of corporate high-rise buildings, then it’s not going to be anything but complex.  It’s only when it is gradually simplified like a math equation, do we see how justifiable the desperation of these crimes really are.  Murder and attempted murders and violations of law and ethics are committed in the film Michael Clayton, and yet no one is carrying a gun. 

This film boasts a brilliant cast ready for complicated characters.  Clooney is far from his charming other characters that evoke cuteness and handsome tuxedo clad appearances.  He’s a tired professional soul, exhausted on the heavy lifting he does for his firm and their apathetic clients.  He’s failed at his dream of running a New York City restaurant with his recovering alcoholic brother and he’s mounted in debt.  Wilkinson is old and past the age of winning at all costs.  He can’t sleep with the contributions he’s lent to criminals he’s legally served on paper.  Swinton is the younger one of the trio with a massively rich and successful future ahead of her, while holding on to the same mentality of what Clooney and Wilkinson’s characters once had.  The only issue is that maybe she’s taking a few too many steps way too far. 

Tony Gilroy has written brilliantly faulty characters who must function with strength, but are weakened by their lack in morale or inability to recover from never having morale, and the actors he’s directed in this film deliver the message perfectly.

Michael Clayton is a smart film, and Michael Clayton is a great, great film.