Before he would star in “Ghostbusters,” Harold Ramis would direct “Caddyshack,” a wild time of an ‘80s movie released, aptly, in 1980. The film had a bevy of stars renowned today, such as Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield, and mixed a posh country club setting with ‘80s hijinks aplenty. Oddly nominated for a “stinker award” for one cast member’s fake accent, the film is a testament to its time and brings a lot of laughs along the way.
There’s no real plot to speak of here, though the film does introduce us to Danny, a young man with college in mind, played by Michael O’Keefe. Danny is a caddy at Bushwoods Country Club, and sees million dollar players such as Judge Smails and Ty Webb (Ted Knight and Chevy Chase, respectfully) but yet hasn’t even money enough for college. An opening in the golf scholarship offered by Smails – and a tournament or two later – and “Caddyshack” sets the stage for it’s host of characters.
Danny is really set between these two during this comedy; Webb, who tries to instill in Danny the notion of finding your own way, and Smalils who clearly believes in money and privilege. However Ramis, who also co-wrote the script with Brian Doyle-Murray and Douglas Kenney, doesn’t stop there. He introduces a wild card in the name of Al Czervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield, who belittles the Judge throughout, showing how much more he has than him. Alongside this Bill Murray’s groundskeeper Carl lurks around, charged with the mission of finding and killing ‘every gopher on the course’ by a man who makes his appearance for this one scene and is never seen again.
The collision of these three – with Danny in the middle – is really what makes the picture work. We get some early scenes of Danny bonding with Webb, who seems to enjoy golf for pure love’s sake. “I don’t keep score,” he responds to the Judge when asked how he fared. We also see some scenes of Danny sucking up to the Judge for a hopeful scholarship, and along the way he becomes weasily, something he later regrets. In one of the film’s funniest sequences, Danny shows up to the Judge’s yacht club in full sailing gear, out-dressing even the Judge in his appointments.
The humor of this movie waxes and wanes, with some semi-serious material sandwiched in between. Dangerfield is hysterical, and is really just playing his stand-up here. “Wow, look at you,” he belittles the Judge’s wife, “you must have really been something before electricity.” The Judge can’t get the best of him, but can of Danny, telling him subtly that he’s ‘sent boys younger than him to the gas chamber’ in one hysterical exchange. While this is going on, Murray sits in his hovel of a residence making plastic explosives to kill the gopher while smoking a tree sized joint. You’ve got to say this about “Caddyshack” – it’s all over the place.
O’Keefe does a good job as Danny, and he has some nice scenes with Sarah Holcomb (nominated for the aforementioned Stinker award), who plays his sort of girlfriend, as well as some fun scenes with Lacey Underhall, who plays an attractive coed related to the judge. He’s an everyday guy, not perfect in any way, but it’s fun to watch him throughout.
On the downside, “Caddyshack” has no real direction, and just sort of ambles about. It could really be three movies: one about the Judge, one about Webb, and one about Czervik. They collide into one another, but there’s no moral tale, no rhyme or reason to their actions. The Judge cheats like a crook (kicking balls for better lies, claiming ‘winter rules’ even though it’s the height of summer), and Czervik cheats in other ways, distracting players and using telescoping lens putters. No one is ever called on any of this, and it all goes by unchallenged.
The film does try to wrap up the proceedings in a tangible way, in a golf challenge for an obscene amount of money, but to hint at its outcome is to give too much away. Plot is not the reason to watch “Caddyshack” – barreling laughter is.
All in all it’s hard to find too much fault with this film. It celebrates the ‘80s, offers solid entertainment, and is just a lighthearted good time. If you’ve never seen it – or haven’t seen it in a while – throw it in; you’re not likely to be disappointed.
– by Mark Ziobro