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Top 10 Movies I Saw For the First Time in 2014

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An admission: I haven’t seen enough newly-released films this year to make a traditional Top 10 list (an admission I never would’ve needed to make a couple of decades ago). Instead, I’m offering a Top 10 list of movies I watched in 2014 that I’d never seen before. A couple of these films I saw in their theatrical first-runs (it will be obvious which two those are), but the rest I saw via https://best-putlocker.com/watch-last-added-online.  So here, in chronological order of when they were made, are my personal choices for the ten best films I was pleased to encounter in 2014.You can visit https://freecouchtuner.com/couchtuner to watch best movies and web series. For the best assassin movie go through the link.

Love is a Racket (1932)loveisaracket6Lee Tracy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Ann Dvorak

William Wellman was on something of a roll at Warner Brothers in the pre-Code era. The year before, he’d directed the iconic gangster picture The Public Enemy (which put James Cagney on the map) and the even more brutal thriller Night Nurse (with a young Barbara Stanwyck at her gutsiest and Clark Gable at his scariest). Love is a Racket is a wickedly funny comedy-thriller starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Jimmy Russell, a New York gossip columnist (patterned after Walter Winchell) who hobnobs with all strata of Manhattan society, from the upper crust to the underworld. Jimmy has become so smitten with a would-be actress (Frances Dee) that he’s willing to put everything on the line (including covering up a murder) to rescue her from a slimy mobster (Lyle Talbot) who’s trying to blackmail her into letting him, well, shall we say, have his way with her. The picture’s scene-stealing honors go to Lee Tracy and Ann Dvorak as Jimmy’s best buds. You can visit Lorraine Music to check more awesome movies.

Northern Pursuit (1943)Errol-Flynn-Helmut-Dantine-Northern-PursuitErrol Flynn, Helmut Dantine

One of the most endearing things about Warner Brothers was that the box office hit hadn’t been made that they couldn’t copy and often improve upon. (Maybe you’ve seen their knock-off of Algiers, a little film called Casablanca?) Northern Pursuit, the fourth collaboration between director Raoul Walsh and star Errol Flynn, was Warners’ answer to British filmmaker Michael Powell’s 49th Parallel, an anti-Nazi propaganda action-adventure set in Canada. Flynn’s plays a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who pretends to be a German sympathizer to infiltrate a group of Nazis who were delivered via submarine to carry out a sabotage mission at the Canadian-American border. As with Walsh and Flynn’s previous World War II adventure Desperate Journey, the action moves at a lightning-fast pace. And speaking of anti-Nazi propaganda…

Cloak and Dagger (1946)cloak-and-daggerGary Cooper, Lilli Palmer

When, in 1933, the German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels offered pioneering filmmaker Fritz Lang an opportunity to make pictures for the Third Reich, Lang did what any sensible Jew in that time and place would do; he hopped the next ocean liner out of Germany. Lang’s hatred for the Nazis resulted in a quartet of anti-Nazi espionage melodramas, Man Hunt (1941), Hangmen Also Die! (1943), Ministry of Fear (1944), and arguably the best of the bunch Cloak and Dagger. Cloak and Dagger stars Gary Cooper as a nuclear scientist who offers to go to behind enemy lines to rescue a colleague before the Gestapo obtains the info necessary to build an atomic bomb. (Despite the predictable criticisms about miscasting, college educated Cooper is absolutely credible as a nuclear scientist.)  The film’s most justifiably celebrated sequence is the hand-to-hand mano a mano between Cooper and Marc Lawrence (as an Italian Nazi agent), a brutal fight to the death involving real pain and sadism (i.e., fighting dirty) rather than Hollywood’s usual exchange of roundhouse punches. The dialogue in the opening scene, in which Cooper expresses misgivings about any world power having the bomb, undoubtedly contributed to the movie’s screenwriters, Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner Jr., being persecuted by HUAC.

Crime Wave (1954)dt.main.ce.Stream.clsGene Evans, Phyllis Kirk, Sterling Hayden

Filmed by director Andre De Toth with a meager budget almost entirely on actual Los Angeles locations in just 13 days, Crime Wave is everything a film noir should be and more, swift, nasty, and hard-hitting. (This is the type of crime picture where characters literally burst through doors.) Song-and-dance man Gene Evans is cast against type as an ex-con newlywed whose attempts to go straight with the help his wife (Phyllis Kirk) are endangered by a gang of former partners-in-crime, two of whom have just escaped from prison. (You can’t ask for better noir villains than Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson, and Timothy Carey.) Sterling Hayden owns the picture as an obsessive hardass of a homicide cop who plays Javert to Evens’ Jean Valjean.

The Lone Ranger (1956)07_1956 Lone_Ranger_and_TontoJay Silverheels, Clayton Moore

In the last 33 years, there have been two misguided attempts to bring the Lone Ranger, that iconic western hero of radio and television, to the big screen, the laughable The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) and the even more disastrous Disney travesty The Lone Ranger (2013). Unlike those mega-budget turkeys, this more modestly-budgeted 1956 cinematic spin-off of the television series, with the definitive Lone Ranger and Tonto (Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels), got it right. Well-directed by Stuart Heisler, from a script by Herb Meadow, and with gorgeous Warnercolor cinematography by Edwin DuPar and a rousing music score by David Buttolph, The Lone Ranger is the perfect  Saturday matinee feature for “kids of all ages,” as the old advertising cliché goes. In her last screen appearance, former child and teenage star Bonita Granville (wife of the movie’s producer Jack Wrather) plays the wife of the picture’s head bad guy Lyle Bettger. (The equally loathsome “dog villain,” as in “a guy who’s so evil that he’ll kick a dog,” is played by Robert Wilke.) Both Moore and Silverheels are given opportunities to take center stage; on his own, Tonto narrowly escapes a lynch mob, and periodically the Lone Ranger goes undercover as a grizzled old geezer. (It’s obvious that Moore was having a ball playing this comic relief persona.)

The Hanged Man (1964)origNorman Fell, Robert Culp

Directed by Don Siegel for Universal, this remake of Ride the Pink Horse (1947) became the first made-for-TV movie by default after NBC rejected Siegel’s previous film The Killers (1964), which was also a remake of a 40s Universal picture intended for television, for being too violent and was released by the studio theatrically instead. (The fact that the Kennedy assassination took place before The Killers was finished didn’t help its chances of premiering on national television.) Based on Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel Ride the Pink Horse, The Hanged Man stars Robert Culp as a burned-out gunman seeking revenge for the murder of a friend by blackmailing his former employer (Edmund O’Brien), who’s currently under congressional investigation on racketeering charges. With a supporting cast that includes J. Carroll Naish, Norman Fell, and Vera Miles (as the obligatory noir femme fetale), The Hanged Man is a testimony to Siegel’s expertise at coping with extraordinary challenges on a tiny budget. Universal decided that the remake should be set in New Orleans during Marti Gras, a requirement that Siegel achieved without any location shooting by using just one street on Universal’s backlot and lots of stock footage. The film’s also a must-see for jazz aficionados, with a score by Benny Carter and on-screen appearances by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto.

The Yakuza (1974)vlcsnap-9280052Ken Takakura, Robert Mitchum

As riveting as the young, feral Robert Mitchum of the 1940s and 50s was, the older, sadder-but-wiser Mitchum of the 70s and 80s was even more fascinating and nuanced. In The Yakuza, directed by Sydney Pollock from a script by Robert Towne and brothers Paul and Leonard Schrader, Mitchum gives what may well be the finest performance of his career as an ex-cop turned private investigator who returns to Japan for the first time since the aftermath of World War II at the request of an old friend (Brian Keith) whose daughter is being held captive by a crime family. Once there, Mitchum finds himself betrayed by those he trusts and discovers an unlikely ally in a former enemy (Ken Takakura making his American film debut and perfectly matching Mitchum as a commanding screen presence). According to World Cinema Paradise founder and long-time resident of Japan Stuart Galbraith IV, The Yakuza is “one of the best films in terms of a Hollywood-based production accurately depicting how Japan is and how the Japanese behave and react,” and still remains “highly regarded” in Japan.

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)much-ado-about-nothing-nathan-fillion-600x315Tom Lenk, Nathan Fillion

Just like Alfred Hitchcock decided to follow his most expensive picture ever, North by Northwest (1959), with his lowest-budgeted American film, Psycho (1960), Joss Whedon followed his most expensive movie to date, The Avengers (2012), with this self-financed adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies. Shot in black & white on the grounds of his own manor in just 12 days during a brief vacation in between the principle photography and post-production of The Avengers, Whedon’s modern-day take on the Bard is a veritable love letter to classic cinema. Amy Acker and Alexis Deniof are wonderful as Beatrice and Benedict, Shakespeare’s urbane they-fight-so-much-that-they-must-be-in-love sophisticates, which became the archetypes for so many latter-day Hollywood screwball comedies. And sheer, out-loud belly laughs are provided by Nathan Fillion (as Dogberry) and Tom Lenk (as Varges), who manage to lampoon CSI-style TV cops shows while simultaneously channeling Laurel and Hardy’s physical schtick. (Fillion’s underplayed rendition of Dogberry’s “I am an ass” speech is the movie’s most sublime moment.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)captain-america-winter-soldier-sliceChris Evans, Anthony Mackie

This sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) proved that Marvel/Disney superhero movies could tackle serious issues without the overbearing pretentiousness and all-too-serious approach of DC/Warners’ equivalent pictures. In this case, the issue is America’s increasingly militarism in response to post-9/11 paranoia. As Cap (Chris Evans), the ultimate patriot, states about an elaborate preliminary-strike anti-terrorist weapons program advocated by a reactionary right-wing senator (an ironically cast Robert Redford), “This isn’t freedom, this is fear.” (The film is a deliberate homage to the political thrillers of the post-Watergate era.) Of course, more than anything else, this is an adrenalin-pumping action-adventure flick, with Cap getting solid support from fellow superheroes the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), as well as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) and head honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), in his fight against the Hydra moles who have infiltrated both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the highest echelons of the US military and government. (Yeah, there’s some Manchurian Candidate in this flick, too.) Directors (and siblings) Anthony and Joe Russo keep the action moving at bullet-train speed, eschewing CGI in favor of practical effects (or, at least, until the finale, which is the standard CGI-fest).

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)new GOTG header 3-10Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bastista, Vin Diesel (voice)

This was the one that the critics who’d long had their knives out for the Marvel/Disney blockbusters predicted would be Marvel Films’ first box-office disaster, mainly because it was based on an obscure comic book series that only the most dedicated fans of the genre were even familiar with. In an example of poetic justice, Guardians of the Galaxy not only wasn’t a financial flop, it also became the highest-grossing film of 2014. The lion’s share of the credit for the success of Marvel’s first out-and-out comedy film belongs to director-writer James Gunn’s quirky sense of humor. (The story goes that Marvel Films creative overseer Joss Whedon, who obviously considered Gunn to be a kindred spirit, handed the first-draft script back to him, requesting “more James Gunn.”) The goofy collection of mismatched, self-appointed “guardians” (who are actually a gang of intergalactic crooks and scam artists) are played appropriately with tongues-in-cheek by an inspired ensemble consisting of Chris Pratt (as Peter Quill aka “Star-Lord”), Zoe Saldana (as Gamora), Dave Bautista (as Drax the Destroyer), Vin Diesel (as the voice of anthropomorphic tree Groot), and Bradley Cooper (as the voice of talking raccoon Rocket). Gunn establishes the movie’s off-beat tone during the opening credits sequence, as Pratt, on his way to a heist, dances around a desolate, rain-soaked planet to the tune of Redbone’s 1974 hit “Come and Get Your Love,” a “Singin’ in the Rain” moment for the New Millennium.

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The Best Movies You’ve Never Heard Of (Special Halloween Double Feature): “Doctor X” (1932) and “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933)

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“The Best Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” is a series of articles devoted to little-known movies of exceptional quality that dedicated film buffs may be aware of, but have somehow fallen through the cracks of the general public’s awareness.

It’s doesn’t take a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient to figure out why the horror movie genre first flourished during the Great Depression. When the things that scare the hell out of the average person are life-changing events like losing one’s job or home or, in some extreme cases, life (due to starvation, illness, or suicide), it’s understandable why movie audiences would seek cathartic thrills in the frights provided by supernatural menaces they would never encounter in real life, such as vampires, werewolves, or man-made monsters.

It was Universal Pictures that virtually invented horror pictures with the one-two punch of Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein (both 1931). However, as film historian Carlos Clerens stated in his seminal 1967 book An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, “Warner Brothers loomed large as Universal’s most serious rival, at least in the first years of the vogue.” Warners’ first two horror pictures (also both 1931) were starring vehicles for the great John Barrymore,[1] Archie Mayo’s Svengali and Michael Curtiz’s The Mad Genius. (Svengali is an especially memorable film with one of Barrymore’s finest film performances.) Both of these pictures were definitely in the European Gothic mode established by Universal.

But for their next two horror movies, Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933, both directed by Curtiz), Warners decided to up the ante, photographing them in Technicolor, which then was still utilizing the original two-strip process (the first instances of using color cinematography for this genre). In addition, these next two efforts would be the first “modern” horror pictures, both set in contemporary New York City and, typical of Warners’ output of the period, reflecting the economic realities of the Depression. (The heroes in both movies, played by Lee Tracy in the former and Glenda Farrell in the latter, are newspaper reporters who are forced to risk their lives pursuing dangerous stories under threat of losing their jobs.)

The cynical wise-cracking newshound would eventually become one of the most oft-repeated clichés of the horror genre, but in these initial instances, the characters were unique and genuinely amusing, thanks mainly to the expert comedy chops of Tracy and Farrell, and the crackling dialogue provided by scenarists Earl Baldwin and Robert Tasker (Doctor X), and Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson (Wax Museum). Lee Tracy practically created the smart-ass reporter archetype when he played the role of Hildy Johnson in the 1928 Broadway premiere of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s iconic newspaper comedy The Front Page. After that triumph, Tracy spent most of his career type-cast as reporters or publicity flacks or other similar fast-talking roles. A few months before Doctor X, Tracy had the best role of his Hollywood career as gossip columnist Alvin Roberts (the movies’ first, but by no means last, caricature of Walter Winchell) in Roy Del Ruth’s screamingly funny black comedy Blessed Event.

Before Wax Museum, Glenda Farrell’s most notable roles at Warners were in two dramatic classics directed by Mervyn LeRoy, in an atypical ingénue role in Little Caesar (1931) and in a much more typical role as the alcoholic floozy who blackmails Paul Muni into a loveless marriage in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). Mystery of the Wax Museum was the first movie that revealed Farrell’s considerable gifts as a comedienne and had a major influence on her subsequent film career as well as leading to her own ‘B’ mystery franchise as reporter Torchy Blane. (Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster went on record as saying that Farrell’s performances in the Torchy Blane films were their inspiration for the character of Lois Lane.) Almost forty years later, the smart-assed, monster-hunting reporter archetype would come full circle in the person of burned-out, middle-aged but indefatigable scandal monger Carl Kolchak, thanks to writer Richard Matheson and actor Darren McGavin, in the hit 1971 made-for-TV movie The Night Stalker, which spawned a sequel and its own weekly series.

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In place of Barrymore, these next Warners horror flicks featured leading performances by two actors making their debuts in the genre they would be linked with for the rest of their lives, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. Not surprisingly, Wray played the damsel-in-distress in both films, the type of role she would best remembered for, particularly in King Kong (1933). Atwill’s roles in the films under discussion were quite different. In Doctor X, he played the title part of Dr. Xavier, noted scientist and father of Wray’s character. Despite some sinister dialogue and camera angels, he was an obvious red herring designed to draw attention from the real villain of the piece. However, in Wax Museum, Atwill had the role of his career as the story’s demented fiend, wax sculptor Ivan Igor. As film historian William K. Everson pointed out in his 1974 book Classics of the Horror Film, Ivan Igor was the type of villain role usually played by Boris Karloff, an initially completely sympathetic character “driven to madness and revenge by the greed and stupidity of others.”

Another notable contributor to both films was Anton Grot, the innovative set designer who was head of the Warner Brothers Studio Art Department from 1927 to 1948. Grot’s deliberately stylized sets influenced Warner’s visual style immensely. “I for one do not like extremely realistic sets,” Grot once said, “I am for simplicity and beauty and you can achieve that only be creating an impression.”[2] This approach dovetailed perfectly with Curtiz’s distinctive visual style which was formed from his days in Vienna in the mid-1920s, making films in the German Expressionist tradition of the period. (Curtiz used Grot extensively while they were both at Warners.) Cinematographer Ray Rennehan’s color photography in these two films also enhanced the surrealism of the visuals.

Just as Roland West’s 1930 thriller The Bat Whispers was filmed in two versions, widescreen and normal Academy ratio, Doctor X was likewise filmed twice, in Technicolor and black-and-white. The color version was shown only during opening engagements in major cities, whereas the black-and-white version was the one that most of the country saw. The suits at the Technicolor company weren’t happy with this approach, however, so Mystery of the Wax Museum was only filmed and released in Technicolor. (The use of color was so integral to the film that shooting an alternate version in black-and-white would’ve been pointless anyway.) Eventually, both films were forgotten by the general moviegoing public, replaced in popular memory by the slicker, more elaborate horror pictures that came later. (Wax Museum, of course, became completely overshadowed by its more profitable but inferior 3-D 1953 remake, Andre De Toth’s House of Wax, which became a cult favorite due mainly to Vincent Price’s performance in Atwill’s role.)

For decades, Mystery of the Wax Museum and the Technicolor version of Doctor X were considered irretrievably lost, with just the black-and-white version of Doctor X surviving. But, in 1970, a 35mm nitrate Technicolor print of Mystery of the Wax Museum was discovered in Jack Warner’s personal vault at Warner’s Burbank lot. As well documented by Everson, Wax Museum unfortunately received a rushed restoration job that botched the Technicolor hues and failed to retain the original vibrancy of the colors. (The result looked like a badly colorized version of a black-and-white movie.) After Warner’s death in 1978, a Technicolor print of Doctor X was found in his personal collection and received a far superior restoration job in 1986 by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, providing modern audiences with a better idea of what the movie originally looked like.

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In Doctor X, a serial killer, who strangles his victims, then cannibalizes their bodies, is stalking New York, but only during a full moon. (The recurring shots of a full moon glowing through the clouds against the background of an emerald green sky are among the film’s most memorable use of Technicolor.) In the opening scene, reporter Lee Taylor (Tracy) is prowling the city wharfs looking for news—any news—when he stumbles onto a possible scoop. He spots a couple of police officials escorting a renowned scientist into a waterfront morgue. He tries to get past the plainclothesman (Tom Dugan) guarding the door, but with little success.

Cop: “Only stiffs go in there tonight.”

Lee: “No kidding?”

Cop: “No kidding.”

Lee: “What’s keepin’ you out?”

Lee then heads for the nearest pay phone, which, this definitely being a pre-Code picture, is located in a nearby cathouse. After trading some banter with the resident madam (played by none other than Mae Busch, best remembered by Laurel & Hardy fans as various villainesses or the shrewish Mrs. Hardy), Lee calls into his paper’s night editor (Selmer Jackson).

Lee: “Give me the night desk, please… Yeah. Willard Keefe… Yeah, this is Lee Taylor. I’m down at the Mott Street Morgue. Just now they bring in the body of an old scrubwoman murdered under very peculiar circumstances… No, they won’t let me see it. I can’t get any dope. Police—” (ogling an attractive prostitute walking by) “Very good.” (back into phone) “I say very—what? I say I can’t get any dope on it. Police orders. Just now, Stevens, O’Halloran, and a guy named Dr. Xavier arrived. Something’s doing.”

Keefe: “Yeah, I’ve heard that one, too.”

Lee: “Listen, you lunkhead, I’m not clowning. Look out the window, will you?”

Keefe:  “What do you mean, the moon?”

Lee:  “Certainly, I mean the moon. I’m laying 10 bucks to a dime it’s another Moon Killer murder.”

Keefe: “Well, that’s different. Now, listen, Lee, stick right on it.”

Lee: “Fine.”

By impersonating a corpse under a sheet, Lee’s able to learn that the evidence points to the killer being someone associated with Xavier’s Academy of Surgical Research, the prime suspects being one of four scientists: Dr. Wells (Preston Foster), an expert on cannibalism whose lower left arm has been replaced by a cosmetic prosthetic; Dr. Haines (John Wray, no relation to Fay), who was once suspected of cannibalism when he and two other scientists were cast adrift for several weeks in a lifeboat and one of the men disappeared before their rescue; Dr. Rowitz (Arthur Edmund Carewe), an expect on lunar studies researching the effects of moonlight on peoples’ psychology; and Dr. Duke (Harry Baresford), a paraplegic dependent on wheelchair and crutches who was the other surviving scientist in the lifeboat incident. (Even from just these brief descriptions, any dedicated fans of mystery fiction should’ve already figured out who the guilty party is!)

Annex - Wray, Fay (Doctor X)_01S Lee Tracy, Fay Wray

Xavier is granted 48 hours by the police to conduct his own investigation before they give the story to the newspapers, a promise that becomes moot after Lee exposes the deal. Then Lee scams his way past the maid into Xavier’s home where he “meets cute” with Joanne Xavier (Wray) when she catches him red-handed swiping photos of her and her father. Needless to say, Lee’s immediately smitten and makes some clumsy attempts at flirting with Joanne. For the rest of the picture, they carry on the type of light semi-affectionate sparring that would become so prevalent in the screwball comedy genre established just a couple of years later.

Lee: “Are you going swimming with me in the morning?”

Joanne: “No, thanks. Good night.”

Lee: “What will you do if I start to sink and yell for help?”

Joanne: “Throw you an anvil. Good night.”

docteur-x-1932-01-g Harry Beresford, John Wray, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Lionel Atwill

Running at just 76 minutes, Doctor X is divided into a traditional three-act structure. Act One, the first half-hour, takes place entirely in New York City. Act Two, the second half-hour, moves the action to a remote mansion located at Long Island’s Blackstone Shoals, where Xavier hopes to continue his personal investigation. (In what would become another oft-repeated horror film cliché, this sinister old mansion resides on a cliff overlooking the ocean.) Per theatrical tradition, Act Two concludes with another murder. Finally, in Act Three, the last two-reels, the movie kicks into high gear, particularly when, in the picture’s most justly celebrated sequence, the villain transforms himself into a monster with the aid of electricity and a creepily ghoulish invention he calls “synthetic flesh.”

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Providing a plot synopsis for Mystery of the Wax Museum is practically superfluous since most film enthusiasts have already seen House of Wax. Indeed, several scenes from the original were faithfully duplicated in the remake, including the opening scene (the sculptor’s museum being destroyed in a fire started by his corrupt business partner to cash in on the insurance [3]); the theft of a young woman’s corpse from the city morgue (both versions featuring the morgue attendant’s sexist wisecrack about a dead female body moving and moaning under the influence of embalming fluid, “Ain’t that just like a woman, always has to have the last word?”); the grand reopening of the wax museum in New York; the female ingénue beating on the sculptor’s face in self-defense, revealing a horribly mutilated face hiding underneath a wax mask; the cops grilling a suspect who’s a strung-out addict (heroin in pre-Code Wax Museum, alcohol in post-Code House of Wax) until he cracks and reveals that the sculptor, whose hands were injured in the fire, has been repopulating his museum with corpses encased in wax; and the grand finale in which the sculptor tries to turn the ingénue into a recreation of his masterpiece, Marie Antoinette, by strapping her to a gurney and showering her with molten wax. (House of Wax’s sole improvement over the original was David Buttolph’s effectively frightening background music.)

mystery-of-the-wax-museum-production-still_2-1933 Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray

There are some major differences between the two versions, however. The original had a contemporary setting, while the remake was done as a period piece in the 1890s (in keeping with Hollywood’s tiresomely obsessive nostalgia for “the Gay Nineties” that began during World War II). The prologue takes place in London in the earlier version, and is set in Baltimore in the later one. But the biggest difference between the two is the emphasis on humor in Wax Museum, provided mostly by Glenda Farrell’s reporter Florence (no surname)[4] and her cynical editor Jim (Frank McHugh). (There are no characters equivalent to Florence and Jim in House of Wax and the only thing resembling humor in the film is the guy with the paddleballs.) Many of the dialogue exchanges between Farrell and McHugh anticipate the similar verbal skirmishes between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940), such as this one after Florence notices that the new wax museum’s Joan of Arc statue looks suspiciously like the suicidal young socialite whose body was stolen from the morgue.

Florence: “I am right! I know I’m right!”

Jim: “Well, no one would ever suspect it. You don’t sound right.”

Florence: “Listen, Jim—and if you wisecrack while I’m talking, I’ll crown you with the inkwell.”

Jim: ”All right, wise guy. Go ahead. Spill it.”

Florence:  “Jim, there’s a little hokey-pokey wax museum opening up down on 14th Street.”

Jim: (sarcastically) “Now don’t that call for an extra?”

Florence: “I asked you to keep your trap shut!”

Jim: “Well, you can’t blame a guy for getting a little breathless with a scoop like that.”

Florence: “All right, you poor baboon, you can guess the rest of it!”

Jim: “No kiddin’? What’s your idea?”

Florence: “Just this, I got a look at that dump a little while ago and if they haven’t got a wax figure of Joan Gale in that line-up, then I’m crazy.”

Jim: “We’ll grant that.”

Florence: “What?”

Jim: “About the Gale girl, I mean. Where do we go from there? What of it?”

Florence: “Listen, Jo-Jo, does this mean anything to you? Joan Gale’s body was swiped from the morgue! Did you ever hear of such a thing as a death mask?”

Jim: “I used to be married to one.”

Florence: “And it came to life and divorced you. I know all about that. Now my idea is this, somebody swipes the girl’s body, takes an impression, makes a mold, produces a wax figure, and—bingo—peddles it to this old skate down there!”

Jim: “Work that up into a comic strip and we’ll syndicate it.”

Florence: “You go to hel—“

Jim: “What?”

Florence: “Let it go.”

Jim: “Come down to earth. Do you think they would dare do anything like that? Don’t you think they’d know that figure would be recognized? Shake your head real hard, you’ll be all right.”

Florence: “All right, master mind, but there’s something cockeyed about that joint and I’m going to find out what it is.”

mystery-of-the-wax-museum-production-photo_6-19331Glenda Farrell on the set

Mystery of the Wax Museum was arguably the first feminist horror picture. Long before Joss Whedon created that vampire-slaying blonde Buffy, Florence proved to be tougher and superior to any of her male counterparts, completely outwitting the police, exposing the villain’s plot, and rescuing her friend Charlotte Duncan (Wray) from a fate worse than death. (In the remake, the savior was more traditionally a man, a police inspector played by Frank Lovejoy, although, in both versions, it was a male cop’s haymaker that sends the villain plunging into his own vat of bubbling wax.) Florence’s toughness and independence is beautifully accented by Farrell’s comic timing and caustic delivery. (When the playboy Florence is dating wants to chicken out of assisting with her investigation, she responds with, “All right, brother, then you can go to some nice warm place and I don’t mean California!”)

WM-004Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Lionel Atwill

The story was remade yet again under the title House of Wax in 2005 (with a dimbulb cast that included Paris Hilton). This time around it was a trashy piece of teenage torture porn so ineptly made that it single-handedly killed off the Dark Castle Productions series that had proven to be a successful annual Halloween attraction for Warner Brothers in the previous four years. Far more enjoyable than either remake was Hy Averback’s Chamber of Horrors (1966), an intended television pilot that was released theatrically instead, in which the House of Wax was reimagined as the headquarters for a trio of amateur criminologists (Cesare Danova, Wilfred Hyde-White, and Tun Tun) in turn of the century Baltimore. The villain in this picture was a demented blueblood (Patrick O’Neal in a creepy, underplayed performance) whose severed right hand had been replaced by an all-purpose prosthetic equipped for such instruments of torture as a hook, scalpel, and meat cleaver. Interestingly, Doctor X was never remade. And, no, despite its title, Vincent Sherman’s The Return of Doctor X (1939) is in no way, shape, or form a sequel. That movie’s sole claim to fame was Humphrey Bogart’s only performance in a horror movie as a resurrected scientist who requires the blood of others to sustain his undead existence. (Bogart, who hated the picture, later quipped that, if only he’d been draining Jack Warner’s blood, he would’ve found the experience more rewarding.)

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Mystery of the Wax Museum is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray as an extra for the 1953 version of House of Wax. Doctor X has been released only on DVD as a double-feature with The Return of Doctor X in Warner Home Video’s Legends of Horror set. And both films often turn up on Turner Classic Movies, especially around Halloween.


[1] It’s not inconceivable that the thought of becoming Warners’ answer to Lugosi and Karloff played a major role in John Barrymore’s decision to take his brother Lionel’s advice and jump ship for MGM.

[2] Introduction to Film Studies, Jill Nelmes, editor, Routledge, 2012.

[3] In the remake, the partner was rather blandly played by Roy Roberts, while, in the original, the role was played by one of Hollywood’s most wonderfully malignant heavies, Edwin Maxwell. Significantly, Roberts got killed off early in the proceedings, whereas Maxwell remained a major supporting character throughout the rest of the picture.

[4] For years now, way too many film historians who should know better have repeated the IMDB’s mistake of listing Dempsey as Florence’s last name, a characteristic IMDB gaffe obviously posted by some humor-impaired film nerd unable to grasp the concept of sarcasm when a cop responds to Florence deliberately slapping him hard on the back by calling her “Mrs. Dempsey” (you know, referring to the boxing champ), even though it’s well-established that Florence is single and is roommates with Charlotte.

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!”