In summertime comedies, few films capture the season’s essence quite like “Caddyshack.” Directed by the legendary Harold Ramis, this iconic comedy has earned its place as a beloved classic, celebrated for its humor, memorable characters, and quintessentially summer setting.
From uproarious golf course antics to the unforgettable performances of its cast, “Caddyshack” continues to hold a special place in the hearts of audiences, earning it the distinction of possibly being the best summertime comedy ever.
Here are ten reasons why this timeless film remains a cherished favorite for many.
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A Tribute to Harold Ramis and Caddyshack: A Bittersweet Revisitation
The recent unexpected passing of writer/director/comic actor Harold Ramis at the age of 69 has deeply affected many, particularly those belonging to the baby boomer generation, serving as a stark reminder of mortality.
Ramis, a prominent figure in counterculture comedy, has left behind an indelible legacy through his work in movies, writing, and television, notably with Second City and SCTV.
While he received widespread acclaim for his contributions, critics have also highlighted the less successful aspects of his later filmmaking career.
I recently revisited Ramis’ directorial debut, Caddyshack (1980), a film he co-wrote with Douglas Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray.
Despite my initial fondness for the movie, I was pleasantly surprised that it has stood the test of time.
However, watching Caddyshack now evokes a sense of melancholy attributed to missed opportunities that were not apparent when the film premiered in July 1980.
The loss brought on by Ramis’ passing and the bittersweet reflection on Caddyshack’s enduring appeal offers a poignant perspective on the impact of his work and the passage of time.
Throughout its brief existence, American cinema has witnessed two notable comedic Renaissances.
The first emerged during the silent era, with iconic figures like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon reigning supreme.
The second, even more remarkable, occurred in the early years of talkies, featuring a diverse array of great comedians and actors who brought laughter to audiences.
The mid-to late-1970s saw the phenomenal success of Saturday Night Live and, to a lesser extent, SCTV, which hinted at a potential third comedic Renaissance as the counterculture humor of these shows’ casts transitioned to the big screen.
However, despite the promise initially shown by films like Animal House and Caddyshack, subsequent productions failed to sustain this momentum, resulting in a decline in the quality of film comedies.
Exceptions to this trend included Frank Oz’s 1986 film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors and Ramis’ 1993 comedy-fantasy Groundhog Day, both of which featured Bill Murray, the only SNL cast member to become a major movie star.
This highlights the first of the two “missed opportunities” in the evolution of film comedy.
With this context in mind, let’s explore why Caddyshack may be considered the ultimate summertime comedy.
- The Setting
Filmmaker Billy Wilder once highlighted the comedic effect of placing characters in serious backgrounds, a concept that Ramis, Kenney, and Doyle-Murray embraced in realizing that country clubs served as equally formidable symbols of elitism, prejudice, and conformity.
Drawing from personal experiences, the script for Caddyshack included autobiographical references to incidents that Ramis and the Murray brothers encountered during their time as teenage caddies at local country clubs.
The fictional Bushwood Country Club, set in the Midwest but predominantly filmed in Florida, provided an ideal backdrop for a satirical slapstick comedy, reflecting the intense dedication and allegiance demanded by the sport of golf.
- The Script
Conceived initially as a coming-of-age comedy/drama centered around teenage caddies, particularly Danny Noonan, the script for Caddyshack underwent significant changes when filming commenced.
While the narrative intended to explore Noonan’s experiences and challenges, it also featured zany country club regulars, which were envisioned as minor roles.
However, the presence of comedians like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield led to significant improvisation and deviation from the original script, highlighting the cast’s comedic talents and the dynamic nature of the film’s development.
These aspects, the setting’s reflection of real-life experiences, and the script’s evolution through improvisation contributed to Caddyshack’s unique and enduring qualities as a comedic masterpiece.
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- The Director
The decision to entrust the directorial duties of Caddyshack to Harold Ramis, despite his lack of experience in filmmaking, proved to be a stroke of genius.
While he may have been a novice in directing, Ramis possessed extensive knowledge of improvisational comedy from his time with Chicago’s Second City, making him the perfect choice to guide, or rather, not interfere with, the improvisational talents of the cast.
Ramis’s trust in improvisation as a technique allowed the actors to create spontaneous and authentic moments, capturing the essence of comedy without relying solely on scripted dialogue.
Furthermore, Ramis’s approach to spontaneity over precision and his willingness to let the cameras continue rolling, even when actors broke character, added a fresh and genuine quality to the film.
This approach, reminiscent of the production style during previous comedy Renaissances, contributed to the organic and lively nature of the comedic performances.
- The Filming
Ramis’s limited technical knowledge of filmmaking led to a visual approach that prioritized capturing unscripted moments rather than meticulously planning shots.
This method, akin to the production style of past comedy films, involved minimal camera movement and predominantly mid- or far-shots, allowing the actors to improvise and interact within the space freely.
- The Cast
Caddyshack was characterized by its ensemble nature, with no single role dominating the film. Each cast member was given equal opportunities to showcase their comedic talents, contributing to the cohesive and balanced portrayal of the characters.
The director’s trust in improvisation, the organic filming approach, and the collaborative ensemble cast all played pivotal roles in shaping Caddyshack into the comedic masterpiece it is known as today.
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a. The Main Cast
Chevy Chase: Despite receiving top billing, Chevy Chase, acclaimed for his laid-back portrayal of dissipated lumber yard heir Ty Webb, was a prominent figure in the film at the time.
His casual and effortless delivery of lines resonated well with the character, showcasing his comedic prowess.
However, behind the scenes, reports of his behavior and interactions with the cast painted a less favorable picture, with some describing him as difficult to work with.
Rodney Dangerfield: As the wildcard of the film, Rodney Dangerfield, despite his limited experience in movies, excelled in his role as the Falstaffian nouveau riche construction magnate Al Czervik.
His background in stand-up comedy and rapid-fire delivery of memorable one-liners led to a standout performance, earning the admiration of younger cast members and leaving a lasting impact on the film.
Bill Murray: Renowned for his mastery of improvisational humor, Bill Murray’s portrayal of greenskeeper Carl Spackler showcased his exceptional comedic talents.
His character’s obsessive quest to rid the golf course of a gopher provided the framework for many comedic moments.
Murray’s improvisation contributed significantly to the film’s humor and memorable scenes.
Ted Knight: Ted Knight’s portrayal of Judge Smails, the pompous and reactionary antagonist, stood out as a brilliant comedic performance.
Despite his background in more serious roles, Knight’s ability to embody the comedic villain added depth to the character and provided a formidable foil for the film’s comedic elements.
The main cast’s diverse talents and contributions, both on and off-screen, played a crucial role in shaping Caddyshack into a timeless comedy classic.
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In the development of the movie “Caddyshack,” the initial plan was for younger cast members such as O’Keeffe, Sarah Holcomb, and Colomby to play leading roles.
However, as the roles of other characters grew, their parts became less prominent, relegating them to traditional supporting roles.
Despite this, the romantic scenes between O’Keeffe and Holcomb were noted for their genuine sweetness and emotional depth, avoiding becoming mere interruptions in the movie.
Cindy Morgan’s portrayal of Lacey and Colomby’s performance as Tony was praised for their professionalism and understated assurance.
b. The kids and the second bananas
Several supporting actors provided essential backing to the main characters. Dan Resin’s portrayal of Dr. Beeper and Doyle-Murray’s role as Lou Loomis were particularly noteworthy.
Additionally, other supporting actors, including Henry Wilcoxon, Ann Ryerson, Jackie Davis, Lois Kibbee, John F. Barmon Jr., Elaine Aiken, Albert Salmi, Peter Berkrot, Minerva Scelza, Brian MacConnachie, and Scott Powell, all contributed to the film’s dynamic with their respective performances.
By incorporating these elements, the movie benefited from the diverse talents of its cast, both in leading and supporting roles.
6. The Role of the Producer
Doug Kenney is officially listed as the film’s producer. Still, reports suggest that his involvement during filming was primarily focused on coordinating social activities due to his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse.
Tragically, Kenney passed away before the completion of the film. The actual driving force behind the production was Jon Peters, who, despite being a former hairdresser, had transitioned into a significant Hollywood figure, leveraging his connection with Barbra Streisand.
“Caddyshack” was only his fifth production. Peters not only took a chance on Ramis and Dangerfield but also contributed to integrating the gopher into a subplot involving attempts to eliminate a significant on-screen character.
Initially, the gopher was meant to appear as a hand puppet. Still, Peters recognized the potential for a more engaging storyline akin to the eternal battles seen in classic Looney Tunes cartoons.
Consequently, the decision was made to incorporate the gopher into the main action.
While there was an attempt to train a live animal for the role, this proved unviable, leading to the creation of an animatronic gopher and its underground network of tunnels by John Dykstra, who had been tasked with providing post-production special effects.
In conclusion, Jon Peters played a pivotal role in shaping the film’s creative direction, particularly with the integration of the iconic gopher subplot.
Jon Peters played a significant role in introducing the element that most notably dates the film – gratuitous nudity. When Cindy Morgan expressed discomfort about a skinny-dipping scene with Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis accommodated her concerns.
However, Peters insisted that she do the scene nude, using the traditional Hollywood threat of potential career repercussions. Despite this, Morgan stood her ground and refused to allow a Playboy photographer to cover the shoot.
During the 1970s and early 80s, brief flashes of nudity in films, especially comedies, served a purpose beyond titillation.
They were primarily included to avoid a “G” rating, which was seen as detrimental to box office success for movies not exclusively targeting young children. “Caddyshack,” with its limited profanity and occasional “gross-out” jokes, was not at risk of a “G” rating.
However, aiming for an “R” rating was considered more appealing for a film targeted at teenagers than a “PG.”
It’s worth noting that this occurred before a 2000 investigation by the Federal Trade Commission revealed that “R” ratings were being exploited, leading to gory horror pictures, violent action movies, and raunchy comedies intentionally marketed to adolescent boys by Hollywood studios.
This revelation prompted political figures to express surprise and concern over the intentional targeting of such content to young audiences.
In summary, Jon Peters’ influence led to the inclusion of nudity in the film, reflecting the industry practices of that era and the motivations behind such decisions.
7. The Musical Contribution
Kenny Loggins, known for his work on Streisand and Peters’ remake of A Star is Born, was tasked by Peters to compose original songs for Caddyshack.
The songs “I’m Alright,” “Lead the Way,” and “Mr. Night,” showcased catchy tunes with well-incorporated choral arrangements. Despite “Make the Move” not being featured in the final film, it was included in the soundtrack album.
“I’m Alright” gained popularity and substantial airplay, while “Mr. Night,” an ode to teenage desires, stood out as the highlight, accompanying a memorable scene during the caddies’ tournament.
In addition to Loggins’ songs, Johnny Mandel, a seasoned jazz composer and arranger, provided a background score that deliberately exuded a retro vibe reminiscent of the light jazz-influenced orchestral scores from 1960s comedies and comic-thrillers.
Notably, the score featured a jazz piece during the Judge’s upscale gathering at the marina, adding an ironic touch considering jazz’s historical origins juxtaposed with its portrayal as “rich people’s music” in the movie.
Furthermore, Mandel’s background score incorporated excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” for a water ballet spoof.
It playfully parodied John Williams’ iconic “shark music” from Jaws when a Baby Ruth bar ended up in the pool. The film’s climax also featured a nod to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” within Mandel’s score.
Loggins and Mandel’s musical contributions, from original songs to the background score, added significant depth and vibrancy to the film’s soundtrack, enhancing its overall appeal.
8. The Ethnic Humor
Due to the evolving sensitivities of Political Correctness, the ethnic humor in Caddyshack is now viewed as highly controversial, contrasting with its initial reception.
Approximately 95% of the ethnic jokes in the film were delivered by Dangerfield, reflecting the comedic style of an older generation of comedians known for pushing boundaries, particularly regarding ethnic and racial sensitivities.
The remaining 5% of ethnic humor came from Carl’s jabs at his boss Sandy’s Scottish heritage.
Al’s ethnic one-liners were primarily directed at the D’Annunzio brothers, reflecting the movie’s broader theme of outsiders attempting to assimilate into a social setting or, in some cases, not conforming.
The Judge explicitly emphasizes this theme by stating, “Some people simply do not belong.” Al’s remarks about Bushwood being restricted highlight his awareness of being out of place in such an environment.
His teasing of the D’Annunzios can be seen as a form of solidarity, acknowledging that his presence at Bushwood is just as unpredictable as theirs.
In essence, the ethnic humor in Caddyshack, particularly in Al’s interactions, underscores the theme of societal acceptance and the dynamics of fitting in or standing out within the movie’s setting.
9. Drug Humor
Aside from nudity, the prevalence of drug jokes in Caddyshack is another element that distinctly reflects the film’s era.
Drug humor was widespread from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, as evident in various comedic works.
In Caddyshack, the drug jokes serve a larger thematic purpose, highlighting how smoking marijuana is an everyday activity shared by both the affluent and less privileged individuals at Bushwood.
The film features scenes where characters, including the caddies and Dr. Beeper, are seen smoking marijuana, emphasizing the communal nature of this activity across different social groups.
Additionally, the interaction between Ty and Carl involves humorous dialogue about a particular strain of grass, infusing humor into the scene.
10. The Climactic Finale
The movie’s climax revolves around a high-stakes golf match, acting as a typical slapstick comedy finale, resolving various plotlines and allowing the protagonists to prevail over the antagonists.
While the match is not played for laughs, Carl’s preparations to use plastic explosives to eliminate the gopher is the fundamental comedic element.
The match also unfolds with a populist sentimentality akin to the style of director Frank Capra, drawing attention to the widespread involvement of the club’s support staff in the outcome of the match.
Ultimately, the climax culminates in a moment of poetic justice as Carl detonates the homemade bombs in the gopher’s tunnels, serving as retribution against the Judge, who had initially ordered the gopher’s extermination.
This turn of events echoes the immortal words of William Shakespeare, emphasizing the theme of comeuppance.
In conclusion, Caddyshack, with its diverse characters and intersecting romantic pairings, captures a Shakespearian essence, albeit in a comedic context.
The film’s finale and the characters’ memorable lines contribute to the story’s overall comedic and thematic richness.
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