Tag Archives: John Dykstra

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Return to Tomorrow: Making “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

Even for those whose universe doesn’t revolve around Star Trek, the problem-plagued production history, release and reception of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) is unique in the annals of Hollywood, and in more ways than one.

For starters, it was the first-ever big-budget movie adaptation of a (perceived) failed television series, one unceremoniously cancelled nearly a decade earlier to boot. The project then went through an agonizingly long process of developmental hell lasting several years. Initially the revival was planned as a medium budget theatrical feature before the decision was made to reworked it as a weekly television series, the flagship for a then-revolutionary, studio-backed fourth television network. Plans shifted again in the wake of Star Wars (1977), and Star Trek became a Motion Picture once more, this time with no expense spared. That process took more than three years, with teleplays written and actors cast for the never-produced TV version, and even sets and miniature models constructed that had to be junked or extensively retooled when Star Trek became a big-budget movie.

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A deal between Paramount and theater owners fixed the movie’s release date: December 7, 1979. That meant the picture had to start filming with a shooting script only two-thirds done. Numerous unanticipated technical problems and deliberations over the script pushed it further and further behind schedule.

The other, even bigger shoe yet to drop concerned Star Trek’s special visual effects. Paramount contracted with the firm Abel & Associates, a company with zero feature film experience but famous for their visually dazzling television commercials. Robert Abel’s firm ordered state-of-the-art equipment, created concept art, built models, etc., but $6 million and 12 months later they had nothing to show for it, with zero usable footage.

Effects veteran Douglas Trumbull reluctantly assumed command, while a second firm, John Dykstra’s Apogee Co., was contracted to handle the overload. Together, they had just nine months to complete two years’ worth of visual effects work.

All of this – the years of script development, money wasted on sets, models, and talent for the never-produced TV series, delays with the live action unit, the millions wasted by Abel & Associates, and the unimaginable overtime and manpower required to finish the special effects in order to meet the film’s release date, pushed the Star Trek’s final cost to $42 million (though possibly even higher than that), making it one of the four or five most expensive movies ever made up to that point. The race to the finish line was so close there was no time to preview the film, no time to fine-tune the editing, no time even to strike premium 70mm prints for the biggest movie houses; Paramount wasn’t even sure whether prints would reach theaters in time.

Return to Tomorrow

This fascinating, one-of-a-kind tale is exhaustively (and, boy, do I mean exhaustively) chronicled in Preston Neal Jones’s Return to Tomorrow: The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, from Creature Features Publishing. The book itself has an equally serpentine history dating back to 1979. Jones interviewed the entire principal cast, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, director Robert Wise, and virtually all of the other key production personnel, some 60 interview subjects in all. The work was originally slated as a cover story for a proposed double-length issue of Cinefantastique, at the time the Rolls Royce science fiction-fantasy-horror cinema magazines, one rich in unusually scholarly articles and reviews about old and new genre films.

For various reasons Jones’s piece was never published. The book reworks the material into a massive, 672-page oral history. On the plus side, it’s fascinating to read 35-year-old interviews conducted mostly around the time the movie was just going into release, December-January 1979/80. All of the trials and tribulations of the making of the film are there, and many of the interviewees are extraordinarily frank in their displeasure and frustration, though most are upbeat and look back fondly on what proved to be an extraordinarily demanding experience. And because of Jones’s obsession to even the tiniest details, Return to Tomorrow paints a vivid portrait of the long and arduous process of studio movie making as few film books have.

But it’s also a bit like poring over several dusty cardboard boxes of raw research material. The most obvious problem with the book is its endless repetition of nearly identical remarks. Even Lukas Kendall, in his brief Afterword, jokes about this: “Everybody loved Robert Wise.” Indeed they did. It’s probably not an exaggeration to state that at least 50 of the 60 participants say something along the lines of, “Were it not for Robert Wise’s experience and expertise in all facets of filmmaking, and especially his eternally calm demeanor, the whole project would have fallen apart.” Moreover, probably half of the 50 say basically the same thing multiple times – three of four times in some cases. Actor DeForest Kelley, “Bones” McCoy, remarks about several lines of dialogue shot but cut from the film, again and again, throughout the book. Someone on the special effects team will discuss the inception and creation of a particular visual effect, and then another member of the same team will talk about the same effect in essentially the way, all over again, sometimes over many pages.

The making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is an inherently engrossing, even highly suspenseful tale. Disaster strikes often. Shit! How are they ever going to be able to overcome that obstacle? Will the movie be finished in time? But reading Return to Tomorrow is like watching the Indy 500 in extreme slow motion, with the racecars crawling down the track at 20 mph.

The book has absolutely no sense of pacing, of telling a story. The red-letter day when the famously unfazable Robert Wise finally blew his stack after screening Abel’s pitifully inadequate smattering of completed effects shots receives little build-up, and when that turning point in the production finally happens, it’s unceremoniously tossed in the literary laundry basket, jumbled in with the rest of the dirty clothes, given the same weight, maybe even less, that the prolix coverage of the creation of warp coil lighting effects.

Despite little bits of bridging material here and there, Return to Tomorrow rarely places the production of Star Trek into context. For instance, there’s virtually no mention at all of Paramount’s aims and long-term strategies with Star Trek relative to the company at large, or its place in the mad scramble by Hollywood to duplicate Star Wars’s success during 1978-84. No other Paramount movies concurrently in development or production are mentioned, and there’s practically zero discussion about the state of the film industry at large in the late 1970s, all of which would have helped to put Star Trek into better contextual focus.

Though primarily an oral history, the author’s own voice is largely absent; there’s no 35-year hindsight, reflection, and analysis. Though it would have been a hard sell to non-Star Trek fans, the work is really geared for the hard-core buffs only, a shame. In the hands of a strong editor and with a lot of pruning (like, 75%), the book might have lost very little of note while transforming itself into a truly insightful, exciting work that, in addition to shedding lots of new light on this volatile production, could have appealed to a much wider audience, and have been a remarkable case study of studio production, art vs. commerce, right at an industry crossroads.

What Return to Tomorrow underemphasizes, when mentioned at all, is how remarkable an achievement The Motion Picture is beyond having made its release date by the skin of its teeth. Though flawed in many respects, the first movie Star Trek accomplished a great deal largely unrecognized at the time, and in retrospect the movie plays a lot better than it did for many when it was new. Indeed, there’s really been nothing quite like it, before or since.

First, the movie was burdened with having to reinvent the wheel through a maze of contradictions. It had to look enough like the old TV show to be recognizably Star Trek and to please its hard-core fans, the perceived core of the movie version’s box-office. And yet to avoid being laughed off the screen it couldn’t look too much like the old show – tastes and technology had changed more in those intervening ten years than perhaps any decade of the 20th century – and it was imperative that a movie Star Trek equally appeal to mainstream moviegoers barely aware of the old show’s existence.

Similarly, the script needed to conform to the spirit of Star Trek and include those elements and characters deemed essential to its appeal, reintroducing iconography intimately familiar to some moviegoers, brand-new and unfamiliar to others. It was a project with a singularly proprietary executive producer and co-writer (Roddenberry) clinging to certain, not always good concepts while notably ineffective as a producer in other ways. There were leading actors muscling in on the script, largely to protect their own interests and their vision of characters they had been inhabiting on and off for more than a dozen years.

Further, the show’s hardcore fans, the Trekkies (or Trekkers or, as they seemed to call themselves then, as the book suggests, Trekkians), after waiting song long for their beloved series’ revival, had their own ideas about what a Star Trek movie should be like, meaning a lot of them would be impossible to entirely please. That Star Trek: The Motion Picture manages to get it right at least 85% of the time is nothing short of miraculous. One need only look at movie adaptations of other popular TV shows (Sgt. Bilko, Lost in Space, The Avengers, etc.) to see just how easy it is to be so profoundly wrong-headed.

The other remarkable thing about Star Trek: The Motion Picture is better appreciated in this age where high-concept, short attention span completely dominates, and adult, intelligent, and methodically paced big-budget movies are practically non-existent. The biggest complaints levied against the movie by interviewees in Jones’s book are the pacing (too slow) and that it needed less emphasis on the special effects and more on character interaction, particularly among the original cast. That’s true to a point, and clearly this was addressed in the sequels beginning with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), in which the characters’ relationships with one another was the whole point.

What’s interesting though about Star Trek: The Motion Picture is how utterly different it is from all of the other Star Trek movies, even those featuring the original cast. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it’s closer in spirit to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) than Wrath of Khan. While Star Trek explores ideas already done to death in literary science fiction, they were relatively new in science fiction cinema, and so far out as to completely baffle some critics. (Amusingly and infuriatingly, my old nemesis Richard Schickel predictably gave the film a highly negative review, partly because he couldn’t figure out why, in his mind, the Klingons piloting the V’Ger ship didn’t show themselves at the climax. Wait – what?)

Further, while the movie maybe could’ve used a bit more humor (more original series producer Gene L. Coon’s realm than Roddenberry’s, who preferred his Star Trek deeply serious; even 2001 has its share of deliberate laughs), it more than satisfies most of the basic requirements of a bona fide Star Trek movie. For instance, one of the original series’ tenets, an optimistic, tolerant, and culturally and racially diversified vision of the future, is there, in spades, throughout the film. So is one of the central themes of the TV show: Captain Kirk’s Horatio Hornblower-like sense of duty to his ship and his uniquely talented instinct as a leader in times of crisis, which sometimes cause personal and professional conflicts with his junior officers.

It’s a movie that requires its audience to think about problems and abstract ideas. In going along for the ride, the audience is required to share in the mystery while exploring these “strange new worlds.” Not everything is made plain. In this way The Motion Picture is more like a link between Kubrick’s 2001 and Peter Hyams’ way-too-explicit sequel, 2010 (1984).

Meanwhile, the film does much to expand upon preexisting concepts. One interesting point that the book reveals is that Wise was very insistent that the immense size of the USS Enterprise be emphasized, which is why there are all those extras in that big recreation room set, and why in dry-dock and elsewhere are there always seen drone-like workers in space gear floating around, fixing things: to lend a sense of scale. Many viewers complained that the introduction of the Enterprise goes on too long, but for this writer then as now it’s practically perfect. Wise and his encouraged effects team were painting on a big canvas, for wide Panavision screens. On small TV monitors yes, this sequence seems to go on forever, but in big movie theaters and now, on Blu-ray, even on obviously smaller 100-inch projection systems, its effectiveness still impresses.

In any case, Return to Tomorrow is the kind of book that’s extremely interesting on many levels, but it’s like panning for gold and sifting through tons of silt over many hours to find maybe $50 worth of nuggets. There’s a mountain of great raw material here but, Lordy, it could have been presented far more effectively.

Harold Ramis

A Tribute to Harold Ramis: “Ten Reasons Why ‘Caddyshack’ May Be the Best Summertime Comedy Ever”

Harold Ramis

The recent demise of writer/director/comic actor Harold Ramis at age 69 was a shock to most people, though I suspect that baby boomers like myself were particularly shaken and reminded of their own mortality. Yet one more of the seemingly immortal Young Turks of counterculture comedy has left us prematurely, joining the ranks of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Michael O’Donoghue, Phil Hartman, and The Firesign Theatre’s Peter Bergman. There have, of course, been numerous accolades for Ramis and his achievements, not just for the movies he appeared in or either wrote or directed or both, but also his work with Second City, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, and Second City’s television spin-off SCTV. (Ramis was SCTV’s first head writer in addition to being a cast member in its first two seasons. Although SCTV never enjoyed the ratings or financial success of its chief rival and inspiration Saturday Night Live, it was the funnier series and the material has dated far less.) The posthumous praise was predictably followed by the inevitable detractors pointing out that not everything Ramis touched turned to gold, especially in the last decade of his filmmaking career. (Admittedly, the least said about mutts like Year One and the bewilderingly pointless remake of Bedazzled, the better. But then even comedy giants like Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers took their last bows in unworthy failures like Atoll K and Love Happy.)

As fate would have it, I recently revisited Ramis’ directorial debut Caddyshack (1980), which he also co-wrote with Douglas Kenney (co-founder of and former editor/writer for National Lampoon) and Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray’s big brother). I had particularly fond memories of Caddyshack from days passed and was pleasantly surprised to learn that, unlike so many similar “slobs vs. snobs” comedies of the period, it’s stood the test of time pretty well. Other than how amusing it still remains, the other surprising aspect about seeing Caddyshack nowadays is the sense of melancholy the film has acquired over the years that certainly wasn’t present when it first premiered in July 1980. That melancholy can be attributed to a pair of missed opportunities that weren’t apparent at the time.

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To explain the first of those “missed opportunities,” a little historical context is in order. In its brief century or so of existence, American movies have had only two Renaissances of comedy. The first one was in the silent days when top clowns like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon reigned supreme. The second and even more impressive comedy Renaissance occurred in the talkies’ first decade when audiences were presented with a cinematic smorgasbord of great comedians that included W.C. Fields, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Joe E. Brown, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and the Three Stooges, as well as some “legitimate” actors with wicked comedy chops, such as James Cagney, Carole Lombard, William Powell, Glenda Farrell, Lee Tracy, Warren William, and Cary Grant.

With the phenomenal success in the mid- to late-1970s of Saturday Night Live and, to a lesser extent, SCTV, it seemed as though we were in for a third film comedy Renaissance as soon as the aforementioned Young Turks of counterculture humor in those shows’ casts made the jump from the small screen to the silver one. Alas, of all the films that resulted when those comic artists made that transition, only two of them, Animal House and Caddyshack, fulfilled that promise. (Not coincidentally, both films had National Lampoon magazine alumni working on them.) But rather than being the tip of an iceberg, these two movies were instead the crest of a wave that crashed ignobly with overblown, unfunny behemoths like 1941 and The Blues Brothers. And the subsequent film comedies starring these young comics just got progressively worse. Only Frank Oz’s 1986 film version of the off-Broadway musical comedy adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors and Ramis’ 1993 comedy-fantasy Groundhog Day (generally regarded as Ramis’ masterpiece) managed to be exceptions. (The fact that both of these films featured Bill Murray, the only SNL cast member to become a major movie star, was also no coincidence.) Hence, the first of the two “missed opportunities.” (More on the second one later.)

With that intro out of the way, here are 10 reasons that Caddyshack may just be the best summertime comedy ever.

1. The setting

Legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder once said, “I think the funniest picture the Marx Brothers ever made was A Night at the Opera because opera is such a deadly serious background.” Similarly, Ramis, Kenney, and Doyle-Murray realized that country clubs were equally intimidating bastions of elitism, bigotry, and conformity. Kenney, in particular, hoped that Caddyshack would be an even sharper dissection of the divide between the Haves and the Have Nots in America than the script for Animal House that he and Ramis co-wrote. In fact, the script had many autobiographical references to incidents experienced by Ramis and the Murray brothers, all of whom caddied at local country clubs as teenagers. In 1988, Bill Murray told the New York Times Magazine, “The kids who were members of the club were despicable; you couldn’t believe the attitude they had. I mean, you were literally walking barefoot in a T-shirt and jeans, carrying some privileged person’s sports toys on your back for five miles.”

Anyone who’s ever been a golf aficionado or had a friend or relative devoted to golfing knows that the sport demands an even greater level of allegiance and dedication than the most fanatical of religions. In this respect, the fictional Bushwood Country Club was an ideal setting for a satirical slapstick comedy. Although the vast majority of the principal shooting was done on location in Florida, the story is definitely set in the mid-West (Illinois, the Murrays’ home state, to be specific). In fact, Ramis deliberately selected the Rolling Hills Golf Club in Davie, Florida, for the golfing sequences because it didn’t have any palm trees.

2. The script

Or, rather, what was left of the script by the time filming commenced. Ramis, Kenney and Doyle-Murray originally conceived Caddyshack as a coming-of-age comedy/drama revolving around the teenage caddies at Bushwood, particularly Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), a boy fresh out of high school who  experiences the most significant summer of his young life as he deals with romantic entanglements, rivalries with his fellow caddies, and the social barriers he needs to overcome in order to win the club’s annual caddy scholarship to finance the college education his large, cash-strapped Catholic family can’t afford. That’s what Caddyshack was supposed to be about, but—oh, yeah, the script also had a few zany country club regulars that the caddies would encounter, you know, just tiny bit parts, practically cameo appearances—and this is where the original script ended up being thrown to the four winds. As it turned out, three of the four performers hired to play those wacky regulars—Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield—were comedians who were used to ignoring scripts and working off-the-cuff. Of course, Ramis could’ve asserted his authority and demanded that the three of them quit improvising their lines and stick to the script—which brings us to the next reason.

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3. The director

To this day, it remains unclear exactly why executive producer Jon Peters entrusted the helming of Caddyshack to Harold Ramis, who’d never directed a movie before, but the choice turned out to be an inspired one. Ramis may’ve lacked experience as a filmmaker, but, fortunately, he had a wealth of knowledge about improvisational comedy, thanks to his time with Chicago’s Second City, which made him the ideal candidate for directing—or, perhaps, more accurately, not interfering with—his top bananas as they improvised their way through scenes. As Ramis explained in “The 19th Hole,” a 1999 documentary about the making of Caddyshack compiled for the DVD release, “We always trusted improvisation. We never felt we were just ad-libbing it or winging it. It’s an actual technique and a method that allows you to create material instantly and it’s not just, you know, grabbed out of thin air. You actually plan what you’re going to do and you have a—it’s like having a script without finished dialogue.”

It’s also worth noting that there are several scenes where the younger cast members can be seen cracking up on camera at the antics of their elders. Thanks to his background, Ramis realized that, in comedy, spontaneity is far more important than neatness, and let the cameras continue to roll, whereas a more experienced hack would’ve yelled “cut” and kept reshooting until the actors “got it right,” even though the freshness of the moment would’ve be completely lost. (Hey, even as seasoned a professional as Cary Grant can be seen cracking up on camera in Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday as comedian Billy Gilbert improvised his way through a scene.)

4. The filming

Another blessing in disguise was that Ramis’ inexperience as a filmmaker extended to his technical knowledge of the medium as well. By his own admission, his visual approach was mainly to just set up the cameras and record whatever happened in front of them, rather than storyboarding the shots. (Indeed, many of the scenes involving multiple characters were shot with the actors standing like a chorus line.) Whether by design or accident, this approach was similar to the way film comedies were made during those two aforementioned comedy Renaissances. Back then, most film comedies had a deliberately “flat” look to them. Every inch of the sets would be lit and most of the camera set-ups were mid- or far-shots, so the comedians could ad-lib to their heart’s content and wander around the sets freely without resorting to moving the camera or cutting to different angles.

5. The cast

Caddyshack was a true ensemble piece and not a star vehicle, in that none of the roles dominated the entire proceedings, and the leads were all given equal opportunities to shine.

a. The top bananas

Chevy Chase: Chase, who received top billing, was the film’s biggest name at the time, as difficult as that may be to grasp today. His laid-back turn as dissipated lumber yard heir Ty Webb was the closest he’d ever come to living up to his early promotion as “the new Cary Grant.” Yes, Virginia, believe it or not, Chase was actually that highly thought of at the time. Ironically, it was his crack about Grant being “a homo” on national television that first revealed to the general public what a nasty, mean-spirited bastard he could be. (Scott Colomby, who played caddy Tony D’Annunzio, mentioned in a 2007 interview: “Everyone on the set of Caddyshack was just as cool as humanly possible, except for Chevy Chase. He was a prick.”) Still, Chase was at the top of his game in Caddyshack and his casual throwaway delivery of lines like, “Your uncle molests collies,” was right on the money.

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Rodney Dangerfield: More than any of the other principals, Dangerfield was the movie’s biggest wildcard. Outside of a supporting role in The Projectionist, a small, low-budget, minimally distributed 1971 independent film (which was an unauthorized remake of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., no less), Dangerfield had never appeared in a movie before. The writers originally envisioned Don Rickles in the role of Falstaffian nouveau riche construction magnate Al Czervik, but Dangerfield was gaining popularity with young audiences at the time with his guest appearances on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live (where, in a parody of The Amazing Colossal Man, he did a series of “he’s so big” jokes with machine-gun rapidity), so Peters decided to go with him. Despite his unfamiliarity with film techniques (he was initially spooked by the inability of the cast and crew to laugh while the cameras were rolling), Dangerfield, a graduate of the Borsht Belt school of stand-up comedy, ended up being the film’s biggest asset, completely walking away with the show (much to the dismay of some of the other cast members). Many of his one-liners have become oft-quoted over the years, such as his remark to his Chinese golfing guest as they first enter Bushwood, “I think this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ‘em you’re Jewish.” It would also seem that, of all the other older members of the cast, Dangerfield bonded the most with the younger actors, mainly because of their mutual appreciation for recreational drugs. In that same 2007 interview, Colomby revealed that the laundry room of the motel where the cast and crew were booked became the designated partying area, and that occasionally after hours Dangerfield would ask him, “Hey, Scott, you wanna do some laundry?”

Bill Murray:  While many of Chase’s and Dangerfield’s lines were impromptu, by all accounts, Murray’s dialogue was entirely improvised during his six days on the set. Much more than Chase, Murray represented the outlaw nature of counterculture comedy, and Murray’s mastery of “stream of consciousness” humor was better than any other comic in the business, even Robin Williams’. The audience never learns the back-story of Murray’s character, greenskeeper Carl Speckler, so it’s not clear if he’s just a slow-thinking stoner with delusions of grandeur or a brain-damaged Vietnam vet (the war was still fresh in peoples’ minds then and was still considered fair game for satirical comedy), but it’s irrelevant. His role is central in setting up the running gag that serves as the framework for many of the comic set-pieces, Carl’s obsessive determination to kill the gopher that’s infested the golf course, and Murray’s fevered monologues about outsmarting his “enemy” provided the movie with some of its funniest moments. Another off-the-cuff moment, Murray’s celebrated “Cinderella boy” speech, was a perfect example of his skill at improvisation. (As writer Tad Friend explained in a 2004 New Yorker article about Ramis: “Ramis took Murray aside and said, ‘When you’re playing sports, do you ever just talk to yourself like you’re the announcer?’ Murray said, ‘Say no more,’ and did his monologue in one take.”) The scene is all the more impressive seeing as the only description of it in the script was: “The sky is beginning to darken. Carl, the greenskeeper is absently lopping the heads off bedded tulips as he practices his golf swing with a grass whip.” (At Murray’s request, mums were substituted for tulips.)

Ted Knight: While rewatching Caddyshack, it became apparent that the performance that gains the most with each subsequent viewing is that of Ted Knight as the movie’s bad guy: pompous, reactionary WASP Judge Smails. Although Knight was no stranger to playing heavies on shows like The Twilight Zone and Peter Gunn early in his television career, the Judge was his first out-and-out comedic villain. And, as such, he succeeded brilliantly in becoming the movies’ best stuffed-shirt comic foil since Sig Ruman sputtered in apoplectic rage at the insults of Groucho Marx. In essence, Dangerfield played Groucho to Knight’s Ruman, a conflict that practically mirrored their off-camera relationship as well. Knight was an actor of the old school who would learn his lines to the letter with the intention of delivering them exactly as written, and he was completely thrown by Dangerfield’s constant ad-libbing. Cindy Morgan, who played Lacey Underall, the Judge’s promiscuous niece, once commented on Facebook, “[Knight] wasn’t playing angry, he was being angry.” Whether real or not, Knight’s exasperated frustration provided the film with a formidable enough antagonist for the other clowns to bounce off of.

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b. The kids and the second bananas: It was the younger members of the cast who inadvertently provided some of the film’s current sense of melancholia resulting from the second case of “missed opportunities.” In the initial stages of scripting and filming Caddyshack, O’Keeefe, Sarah Holcomb (as Danny’s Irish girlfriend, club waitress Maggie O’Hooligan), and Colomby were intended to be the movie’s stars, but the more the roles of Ty, Al, Carl, and the Judge were enlarged, the less prominent the roles of Danny, Maggie, and Tony became. What was supposed to have been their breakthrough roles instead reduced them to the traditional ingénue parts that were regularly found in the movies of the Marx Brothers. (O’Keefe went on to extensive work on television and the stage, whereas Holcomb, who had also played Clorette DePasto in Animal House, became ensnared in Hollywood’s drug culture and soon retired from movies.) In all fairness, the romantic scenes between O’Keefe and Holcomb had a genuine sweetness and emotional sensitivity that kept them from becoming the type of insufferable interruptions that the equivalent “young lovers” scenes in the Marxes’ movies were. In addition, Cindy Morgan’s underrated turn as Lacey showed the professionalism of an accomplished comedienne and is another performance that gains with subsequent viewings. The same goes for Colomby’s Tony, which reflects a smooth, understated assurance as well.

Then there’s the film’s “second bananas” who provided much needed support to the main clowns. One of the most prominent of these supporting roles was Dan Resin as Dr. Beeper, Bushwood’s record-holding golf champion and the Judge’s partner-in-snobbery. (Resin’s best moment in the film comes when, after a swim at the marina, Beeper tries to prove how hip he is by bumming a drag off the joint the rich kids are sharing and almost electrocutes himself by instinctively grabbing his pager when it goes off.) Another invaluable supporting player was screenwriter Doyle-Murray as Lou Loomis, Bushwood’s caddy master and inveterate gambler forever in hock to his bookie. (His best moment occurs when the Judge wins the “odds or evens” contest to determine who tees off first in the climatic golf game and Lou quips with a barely-concealed smirk: “Your honor, your Honor.”)

Also deserving of mention are Hollywood veteran Henry Wilcoxon (best remembered as Marc Anthony in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 version of Cleopatra) as the Lutheran Bishop who comes close to being electrocuted himself during “the best game of my life” (played in the midst of a raging thunderstorm) when he vents his anger at “the Good Lord” by furiously shaking his club at the heavens after missing his final putt; Ramis’ former Second City colleague Ann Ryerson as Grace, the gangly tomboy caddy whose Baby Ruth bar winds up in the club’s swimming pool in the movie’s most notorious scene (which, not surprisingly, was deleted for the “edited-for-television” version that predominated on non-cable TV); Jackie Davis as Smoke, Bushwood’s token “Negro” (who gets even with the Judge for his racist joke about “the Jew, the Catholic, and the colored boy” by buffing his golf shoes so hard that sparks fly); Lois Kibbee as the perpetually flustered Mrs. Smails (who lasciviously admires Danny’s young body when he turns up undressed in her bathroom while on the lam from the Judge after getting caught making out with Lacey); John F. Barmon Jr. as the Judge’s slovenly grandson Spaulding (who inspires Al’s crack, “Now I know why tigers eat their young, you know?”); Elaine Aiken and veteran character actor Albert Salmi as Danny’s parents; Peter Berkrot and Minerva Scelza as Tony’s siblings and fellow caddies Angie and Joey (the unspoken implication is that the D’Annunzios are just as large a Catholic family as the Noonans are), and Brian MacConnachie (another National Lampoon alumni) and Scott Powell as Drew and Gatsby, the club hanger-ons who pal around with Al and inadvertently set the Czervik-Smails conflict in motion by inviting their buddy to join them at the club for a golf date.

6. The producer

Doug Kenney is credited as the film’s producer, but by most accounts, he was so caught up in his drug and alcohol habits that his main duties while filming were basically coordinating the extracurricular activities (i.e., partying) that took place after the day’s shooting. (Sadly, Kenney never lived to see the finished film. He was killed in a freak accident while on vacation in Hawaii after the principal photography was completed.) The movie’s real hands-on producer was former hairdresser Jon Peters, who’d just parlayed his professional relationship with Barbra Streisand into becoming a major Hollywood player. Caddyshack was only the fifth movie he’d produced. In addition to taking a chance on Ramis and Dangerfield, Peters also came up with one major inspiration: making the gopher Carl’s determined to off a major on-screen character. As originally scripted and filmed, the only time the audience would see the gopher was in the form of a hand puppet that poked its head out of a hole, prompting Al’s lament, “Hey, that kangaroo stole my ball!” Whether or not it was motivated by Caddyshack being an Orion Pictures production that was going to be distributed by Warner Bros., Peters realized late in the game that the “Carl vs. the gopher” subplot should be patterned along the lines of such similar eternal battles as “Elmer Fudd vs. Bugs Bunny” and “Wile E. Cayote vs. the Road Runner” in Warners’ classic Looney Tunes cartoons. After receiving instructions from Peters to incorporate the gopher into the main action, Ramis initially thought that a live animal could be trained to pull it off, but when that turned out to be unfeasible, John Dykstra, who’d already been commissioned to provide the post-production special effects, was assigned to create an animatronic gopher and the underground network of tunnels it inhabited.

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Peters was also single-handedly responsible for the one element of the film that dates it more than any other aspect: the gratuitous nudity. When Morgan expressed discomfort about doing a skinny-dipping sequence with Chase, Ramis had no problem with acquiescing to her objections, but Peters basically told her to do the scene nude or else. (“Or else” being, of course, the traditional Hollywood threat “you’ll never work in this town again.”) Morgan did manage to stand her ground, however, in refusing to allow a Playboy photographer to cover the skinny-dipping shoot. But there were reasons that films of the 1970s and early 80s (especially comedies) contained brief flashes of nudity other than to titillate the adolescent and teenage boys in the audience; more importantly, it was to avoid the dreaded “G” rating, which was the kiss of death at the box office to any movies not intended exclusively for young children. (George Lucas deliberately inserted a brief shot of a severed arm in Star Wars for the exact same purpose.) With its limited profanity and occasional “gross-out” jokes, Caddyshack was never in danger of being rated “G,” but an “R” was considered so much hipper for a film aimed at teenagers than a “PG.” Of course, this was before the 2000 “scandal” in which a Federal Trade Commission investigation revealed that “R” ratings were a joke and that gory horror pictures, violent action movies, and raunchy comedies were intentionally being marketed to adolescent boys by the Hollywood studios, a “revelation” that had political hacks like Senators McCain, Lieberman, Hatch, and Brownback professing to be shocked, shocked! (One has to wonder what planet they’d been living on.)

7. The music

Singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins had previously composed the song “I Believe in Love” for Streisand and Peters’ remake of A Star is Born, when he was commissioned by Peters to write the original songs for Caddyshack. The songs, “I’m Alright” (the main theme that runs under both the opening and closing credits), “Lead the Way,” and “Mr. Night,” were all fairly catchy with some nice use of choral arrangements in the backgrounds. (A fourth song, “Make the Move,” wasn’t used in the finished film, but was included on the soundtrack album.) “I’m Alright” was a minor hit that generated a lot of airplay, but the best of the bunch is “Mr. Night,” a honky-tonk ode to teenage horniness that accompanies the scene where, to commemorate the annual caddies’ tournament, the caddies are allowed their only admittance into the country club pool for the summer. (A crudely written sign outside the pool states that the caddies are welcome from “1:00 to 1:15.”) “Mr. Night” plays during the first half of the scene to be followed by a brief excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” for a water ballet spoof, and then, when the aforementioned Baby Ruth bar ends up in the pool, Johnny Mandel’s background score parodies John Williams’ iconic “shark music” from Jaws. (Mandel also quoted from Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” for the film’s climax.)

Mandel was a veteran jazz composer and arranger whose previous film work included his Grammy-winning jazz score for I Want to Live and another major comedy blockbuster M*A*S*H, for which he also composed the theme song “Suicide is Painless.” Mandel’s background score for Caddyshack evokes a deliberately retro vibe reminiscent of the light jazz-influenced orchestral scores that accompanied comedies and comic-thrillers of the 1960s. Interestingly, the one pure jazz piece in Mandel’s score was heard in the background during the Judge’s ritzy gathering at the marina. (It’s a safe bet that the irony of jazz—born in the cotton fields and whore houses of the deep South—being depicted in the movie as “rich people’s music” wasn’t lost on Mandel for a second.)

8. The ethnic humor

Thanks to the paper-thin sensitivities of adherents to Political Correctness, the ethnic humor in Caddyshack is now considered highly controversial, which wasn’t the case when the film first opened. Not surprisingly, about 95% of the ethnic jokes came from Dangerfield, who belonged an older generation of comedians for whom nothing was sacred, least of all ethnic and racial sensitivities. (The other 5% would be Carl’s cracks about the Scottish heritage of his boss Sandy, such as “I’ll fill your bagpipes with Wheatina.”) And the bulk of Al’s ethnic one-liners were generally aimed at the D’Annunzios.

Al: “Hey, you guys are brothers, huh?”

Tony: “Yeah.”

Al: “So what is this, a family business or what? You know, they say, for Italians, this is skilled labor, you know?”

Tony: (sarcastically) “No, actually, I’m a rich millionaire. You see, my doctor told me to go out and carry golf bags a couple of times a week.”

Al: “Hey, you’re a funny kid, you know? What time’re you due back at Boys Town?”

Not to get all highbrow or pretentious about it, but Al’s ethnic jokes play into the movie’s larger theme about outsiders trying to fit in—or not giving a damn about whether they fit in or not, as the case may be. (The Judge explicitly states this theme when he says, “Some people simply do not belong.”) As Al’s line about Bushwood being restricted makes clear, he’s well aware that folks like him stick out like a sore thumb there. His razzing of the D’Annunzios is a kind of expression of solidarity acknowledging that his presence at Bushwood is just as incongruous as theirs’ is.

9. The drug humor

Outside of the nudity, the other element of Caddyshack that most clearly stamps it as a product of the early 80s is the drug jokes. Indeed, drug humor was so prevalent between the mid-60s and the mid-80s that two comedy LPs of the early 70s, National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner and Robert Klein’s Mind over Matter, had references to “obligatory drug jokes.” As with the ethnic jokes, the drug jokes in Caddyshack serve a larger purpose towards the movies’ main theme. Smoking dope, as it turns out, is just about the only activity that both the rich kids and the poor ones at Bushwood have in common. Lou warns the caddies that he’s had complaints about them “smoking grass.” And, during the marina scene, we see Spaulding and his stoner pals passing around a doobie. (This, by the way, is the same joint that Dr. Beeper tries to cop a toke from before getting the shock of his life.)

Drug jokes also play a big part in the film’s only scene between Chase and Murray in which Ty “plays through” Carl’s squalid quarters while prepping for the big golf match the next morning. (A scene that Peters insisted on at the last minute after he realized that his two top-billed actors didn’t have any screen time together. So Ramis, Chase, and Murray hastily brainstormed some material over lunch and shot the entire scene that afternoon.) As Ty tries to find a way to hit his ball off of Carl’s leftover pizza slices back onto the green, Carl shows off his new grass hybrid, “a cross of bluegrass… uh… Kentucky bluegrass, featherbed bent, and Northern California sensemilia. The amazing stuff about this is that you can play 36 holes on it in the afternoon, take it home, and just get stoned to the bejeezus-belt that night on this stuff.” The scene’s funniest moment occurs when Ty starts coughing and gagging after reluctantly taking a drag off a monster blunt packed with Carl’s grass and Carl casually admits, “It’s a little harsh.”

10. The grand finale

The movie’s climax is a $20,000 per player team match (an amount that, eventually, swells to $80,000) pitting Ty and Al against the Judge and Dr. Beeper. Like the finales of so many slapstick comedies, it was mainly an excuse to tie up all the various loose ends and allow the good guys to triumph over the bad guys. Outside of a few isolated gags (Ty’s ball flies into the trees and is impaled on a crow’s beak), the match itself is not played for laughs. The real comedy in the movie’s conclusion is reserved for Carl’s preparations to go Defcon 1 on the gopher with plastic explosives molded into the shape of woodland animals like “the harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit.” Instead, Ramis and his co-writers borrowed a page from the book of director Frank Capra and his most frequent collaborator, screenwriter Robert Riskin, and played the golf match for populist sentimentality. As the match gets underway, word spreads like wildfire throughout the club and, eventually, the entire support staff of Bushwood pours out onto the links in the hopes of finally seeing the Judge receive his well-deserved comeuppance. And when, at a crucial moment in the match, it seems as though that comeuppance won’t be forthcoming after all, the movie’s Dues Ex Machina arrives in the form of Carl’s detonating the homemade bombs he’s placed in the gopher’s tunnels. Which, since it was the Judge who ordered the extermination of the gopher in the first place, it would seem that, in the immortal words of William Shakespeare, he was “hoist with his own petard.”

Speaking of Master Will, with its wonderful variety of characters, situations, and intersecting romantic pairings, I’m seriously tempted to describe Caddyshack as Shakespearian, but out of deference to those people who’d interpret seeing the words Caddyshack and “Shakespearian” in the same sentence as irrefutable proof of the End of Civilization As We Know It, I’ll resist the temptation. Still, as Bushwood’s Hoi Polloi party triumphantly, let us recall the Bard’s memorable phrase, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Or as Al puts it, “Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”