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Be the Ball

A lesson to all you future business leaders: one should always be careful what one dismisses in print, because one never knows when such commentary will come back to bite them in the ample behind. Demonstrating all the marketing savvy and market prescience of Xerox when they dumped the graphical interface PC, so it was written in the January 12, 1981 issue of the Harbus:

Five Worst Films of 1980
Caddyshack: The most banal film of the summer. Even the manic vulgarity of Rodney Dangerfield couldn’t rescue this one. John Dykstra did the special effects — the animated gopher. John, how could you?

Clearly, 21 years later, the Harbus needed to revisit Caddyshack and correct past mistakes. The film has achieved cult status – seriously, who hasn’t gone through a fast-food drive thru and wanted to say “I want a hamburger, no I want a cheeseburger, I want a milkshake, I want French fries,” or screamed “Noonan!” at their opponent in putt-putt golf. All right, maybe that’s just me, but Caddyshack probably now occupies the space on your video shelf right next to Animal House, Vacation, and Airplane! Director Harold Ramis must be one of the coolest guys ever – he had a hand in writing or directing three of those films.

The plot is completely secondary, but the film centers around the on- (and off-) course antics at Bushwood Country Club, where caddy Danny Noonan, played by Michael O’Keefe, is shooting to win the club’s caddy scholarship. Though the original intent of the screenwriters was to focus on the caddies, they quickly take a back seat plot-wise (and provide all the bathroom breaks in the movie) to the escalating feud between Ted Knight as snobbish club president Judge Smails and Rodney Dangerfield as loud-mouthed Al Czervik, which climaxes with their $80,000 golf match.

It was most definitely the casting coup that resulted in teaming Chevy Chase, Dangerfield, and Bill Murray that sends this one down the fairway. Ramis wisely stands out of the way as the three comic heavyweights mug for the camera and perform their shtick. Chase is well-cast as the eccentric playboy whose Zen-like advice is to “Be the ball.” Dangerfield and Murray chew scenery like John Candy eating the gristle of the “Old 96er” in The Great Outdoors. We’ve seen Dangerfield make a whole movie career out of basically the same character (you half expect him to walk out in a bathing suit in the pool scene and do the Triple Lindy) that you forget this was his first major film role.

Other than the aforementioned pool scene (you know the one – an exploration of the turd-like qualities of a Baby Ruth candy bar), Murray’s scenes as off-balanced Assistant Groundskeeper Carl Spackler steal the show. Murray, acting alone in almost all his scenes, does battle throughout the film with the gopher (played by hand puppet Mr. Gopher) that is destroying the course. Only Murray’s inspired idiocy could make a scene–in which he utters “in the words of Jean-Paul Sarte, ‘au revoir, gopher'” to a sock puppet–classic comedy.

Speaking of Mr. Gopher, should John Dykstra be ashamed of his creation? I haven’t seen a sock puppet hold its own like that since Miss Piggy decked Luke Skywalker on The Muppet Show. Who doesn’t hear the theme song from Kenny Loggins (no, not Top Gun, Goose) and immediately think of and act like a dancing gopher? I seem to remember that toy flying off the shelves a few years ago at Christmas, right before Americans discovered the sheer joy of owning a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

With apologies to Happy Gilmore and former Harbus movie reviewers, this is the greatest golf film of all time. See you at the 19th Hole.

March 4, 2002
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