Caddyshack [1980)

I’m so happy to be bringing you an actual film review today.

Even though I’m under the weather.

Yes, the airborne molds here in San Antonio seem to have brought on a nasty head cold.

[And before that it was the mountain cedar pollen.  It seems my city is among the five worst in the U.S. for allergens!]

But nothing does the health quite as much good as a larf ūüôā

And I must say, categorically, that Caddyshack is a masterpiece.

I suspected as much, but I never truly analyzed every bit of dialogue.

Till now.

And let me just start off by saying, the screenwriters responsible for this film deserve immense kudos.

First, Douglas Kenney.

If you go to the¬†Caddyshack¬†page on Wikipedia, you will notice that Mr. Kenney has no hypertext love for his name in the “informatics” box.

[Correction, Kenney’s name under the heading “Writers” is not hypertext-enabled, but his name is linkable elsewhere on the page.]

The story of Mr. Kenney is sad.

The strangest part is, HE DOES indeed have a Wikipedia page!

So why no link to the Caddyshack page?

My guess is that this film (and its stakeholders) probably want to distance themselves from the late- Mr. Kenney.

And that’s the saddest part.

You see, Douglas Kenney died almost exactly a month after Caddyshack was released.

Apparently Mr. Kenney was depressed about the bad reviews Caddyshack had gotten.

It’s a tragic story.

But we’re here to celebrate this wonderful film!

And there are two more writers to credit.

Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014, is also credited with writing our timeless work.

And finally, Brian Doyle-Murray (who is thankfully still with us).

These three writers crafted a great story.

But most importantly, they should be revered for the fantastic banter which they concocted.

In its own way, the script for¬†Caddyshack deserves a prominent place next to Ernest Lehman’s¬†North by Northwest.

But to pull off great lines, you need great actors.

And Caddyshack is chockfull of masterful performances.

But first let’s take a look at the socioeconomic aspects of this story.

The action is completely set at a posh golf course in Nebraska:  Bushwood Country Club.

While some of the allegorical caricatures are a bit crude (indeed, the whole film is gloriously crude), there is a nice message to this film.

Quite simply, it is the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

And the main, anarchist “have-nots” are the caddies.

Those lowly youngsters who schlep golf bags up and down green hills in lieu of golf carts.

It’s funny…

The manager of the Caddy Shack (actually played by writer Brian Doyle-Murray) holds the specter of replacement over the young caddies’ heads.

Shape up, or you’ll be replaced by golf carts.

[Or something to that effect]

I can hear the same strains echoing from my local McDonald’s (though I never go there).

You want fifteen dollars an hour?

Great.

Hello robots.

But these kids put up with a lot of shit.

And, though this film doesn’t get this in-depth, I feel for the youngsters who are out there working crappy jobs.

America is fucked up.

A cashier at a corner store shouldn’t be prevented from getting antibiotics for her infected tooth.

She shouldn’t have to miss work because we can’t figure out this problem.

I’m guessing she can’t afford the doctor’s visit.

Or the visit to a clinic.

But that’s pretty sad.

It’s like panhandling…

No one would dream of such an existence.

So we gotta be less cynical.

Yeah, panhandlers will try any trick in the book.

But in the final estimation, one must really feel sorry for anyone who has no better options than to spend their time begging (or, for that matter, hawking cigarettes for minimum wage at the Kwik-E-Mart).

But I digress…

The late- Ted Knight did a great job of playing the yuppie villain in this film.

You want to go to law school? ¬†And your parents can’t afford it?

Well, the world needs ditch-diggers too.

It’s a bloody-jawdropping line from our three screenwriters!

Ted Knight plays Judge Smails.

Yes, a real piece of work he is!

The “good-old-boys” network.

Even up in Nebraska.

Perhaps a jab at Warren Buffett?

We know, of course, that Mr. Buffett was having a very convenient charity golf tournament the morning of 9/11 at Offutt Air Force Base.

And Offutt is the central node of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

And George W. Bush eventually made his way to Offutt on 9/11 (after stopping over at the second most important nuke site, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana).

And then there was the jet owned by Mr. Buffett that was conveniently in the air near Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

And Ms. Anne Tatlock who would have normally been in her office at Fiduciary Trust Company in the World Trade Center, but was playing golf with Warren Buffett.

Fiduciary Trust lost 87 employees on the morning of 9/11 when Flight 175 slammed into the WTC.

But Tatlock was in Omaha.

Too crazy to be true?

And who were the other invitees at Buffett’s event?

Let’s return to comedy, shall we? ūüôā

Chevy Chase is fantastic as Ty Webb in our film.

He has no editing mechanism.

Here is a guy so effortlessly-rich that he just says whatever is on his mind.

Remind you of anyone?

And if that pointed-allusion to our PEOTUS isn’t pithy enough, we then have Rodney Dangerfield’s ostentatious character: ¬†a realtor!

Remember, in 1978 (two years before Caddyshack) the villain of Superman (Lex Luthor) was also a realtor.

It’s an interesting meme.

Indeed, the word “meme” was coined just two years before THAT (in Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book¬†The Selfish Gene).

So perhaps it was just the Zeitgeist, but our writers had latched onto something with the realtor trope.

However, as stated, the villain of Caddyshack is the venal Judge Smails.

Rodney Dangerfield (who was magnificent in this film) is very much an anti-villain:  the enemy of our enemy.

Dangerfield’s character Al Czervik may be¬†nouveau riche, but he has many redeeming qualities.

To reel in one of my favorite memes, he puts the disruptive in “disruptive innovation” (thank you Clay Christensen).

I mean, really…you gotta hand it to a guy with Budweiser on tap in his golf bag ūüôā

But perhaps the most important character is Carl (played to genius proportions by Bill Murray).

Carl is the slack-jawed “assistant [head?] greenskeeper” whose internal monologue is just audible enough to guide us through this film.

Every film critic should identify with Carl (except, of course, the “successful” ones).

Here’s a guy who basically lives in the toolshed.

I mean, the scene where Chevy Chase “plays through” is just classic!

Carl eventually does a little housekeeping with a leaf blower (presaging the eccentric roots of Beck Hansen [whose dust-choking start was still a ways off in 1980]).

But Carl really makes this film tick.

He is the Fanfare for the Common Man.

And there are Bronx cheers in place of the timpani!

[Did somebody sit on a duck?]

Sarah Holcomb probably doesn’t get much credit for her role in this film, but she should.

Ms. Holcomb was born on September 11, 1958.

This was her last film (according to Wikipedia).

While her Irish accent is a bit grating (because, I am guessing, it is merely a plot device), she is a joyful presence in this film.

Ah, but Cindy Morgan really steals the show as Lacey Underall.

And she’s not just a pretty face!

Her acting (and chemistry with Chevy Chase) is really remarkable.

Plus, she has the best line of the film:

“BULLFIGHTS ON ACID.”

God, I love that line…

Which takes us back to our writers.

These guys were really something!

But I haven’t even mentioned the¬†auteur¬†of our film.

It was, indeed, one of the three writers:  Harold Ramis.

Sure, there are cheap stunts (actually, $8 mil. worth…in 1980!).

But they almost all work beautifully.

For instance, the¬†Jaws¬†spoof with the Baby Ruth in the swimming pool ūüôā

I mean, God…what a concept!

And even little touches…like Ted Knight hacking through the bathroom door with a golf club instead of an axe (√† la¬†The Shining).

The Shining, incidentally, was released about two months before Caddyshack.

[Jaws hailed from 1975 and Jaws 2 had dropped in 1978.]

It’s hard to say to what extent Bill Murray and Chevy Chase improvised in this film.

The same goes for Rodney Dangerfield.

These were/are comedic geniuses.

So no doubt a good bit of credit for the final product goes to these three gentlemen.

But Harold Ramis pulled it all together.

And so, dear friends, if you haven’t seen this film, then you absolutely must.

It’s not¬†Gone With the Wind, but it’s a very significant milestone in the development of cinema.

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 10 [1976)

“…I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know…”

Ah, Bill Withers.¬† A lyrical genius.¬† And though I kid, I mean it.¬† This section of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of the most tense portions of pop music ever laid down on tape.¬† In case you’re wondering, there’s 26 “I know”s.

And indeed, the powerful Mr. Withers performed this very song on SNL backed up by Howard Shore’s band to amazing dramatic effect.

Now, if you have been following along with my clinically-insane review of the entire Saturday Night Live oeuvre (or canon, if you will) you will know that the musical guests thus far had been:

Billy Preston, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow, Esther Philips , ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil Scott-Heron, and Anne Murray.¬† [Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone out.]

I mention them again because almost all of them (with the notable exception of Simon & Garfunkel) were pushing product.¬† To use the terminology which Kurt Cobain so presciently keyed in on, they were attempting to be “radio friendly unit shifters”.¬† Shift those units.¬† Move that product.

This is significant when viewing Bill Withers’ performance.¬† “Ain’t No Sunshine” was from his 1971 album Just As I Am (that’s five years before this broadcast).¬† He’d had at least four albums come out since 1971.¬† He would have a fifth released in 1976.¬† And though he only got to perform one song, he went back to his big hit.

It makes me wonder whose idea that was.¬† Lorne Michaels?¬† Perhaps even a wily A&R man trying a counterintuitive tactic.¬† Kinda like, “Hey…I’m Bill Withers.¬† Remember me?”

All…that…having…been…said:

this is a fantastic episode!!!

I must admit I had no idea who Buck Henry was upon viewing this.

Pierre Henry?  Of course.  But Buck Henry?  No way.

Sure, I’d seen The Graduate, but paying attention to who the screenwriter was had to be the last thing on my mind as the credits rolled.

I like films without scripts.  Godard.

The only script I can honestly say I’ve ever read out of admiration for the film (and writing) is Ernest Lehman’s fantastic North by Northwest (brought to the screen, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock).

To make a short story long, Buck Henry is an amazing actor.

I don’t know to what extent he was involved in the writing of skits for this episode, but I can confidently say that this show surpasses all the others before it.

What is more, Buck Henry is ten times the actor that is Elliott Gould (the previous week’s host).

So, there.¬† Buck Henry is great.¬† From his role in John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen to his part as Gerald Ford’s aide in the Oval Office.

Speaking of these two skits, they are certainly among the highlights (if not the outright best two).

Belushi was improving with every episode.  From Samurai Hotel came Samurai Delicatessen.  It is an artful role on par with the talent of Peter Sellers.

The extra portion Belushi brought to the table was his singing (yes, singing).¬† We heard him earlier in the debut season doing a send-up of Joe Cocker.¬† In the episode under consideration, Belushi and Dan Aykroyd debut a proto version of The Blues Brothers…in bee costumes!

I must say that their performance of “I’m a King Bee” is infused with the punk spirit which was then coursing through the veins of New York City.¬† Belushi takes his breaks from singing as opportunities to do ridiculous, stumbling cartwheels around the stage.

This is one thing for which you have to give the Not Ready for Prime Time Players credit:  they would do anything for a laugh.

The precedent had been set early on by Chevy Chase.  No one could fall quite like Chevy, and thus it was natural for him to portray the unlucky Gerald Ford.

One of Chevy’s real miracles was a failed attempt (as Ford) to put the star on a 15-foot Christmas tree.¬† I don’t know if Chase had stunt training, but his falls are impressively wild.

But again, in this episode we see Chase developing his comic timing and humorous subtleties which he would later parlay into a successful movie career.¬† Chase’s portrayal of Ford is particularly smooth (peppered, of course, with appropriately clunky dementia).

Two more bits bear mentioning.¬† Michael O’Donoghue’s anti-impression illustrates all that was good about the early days of SNL.¬† It’s flailing about, but it is such a refreshing flailing.

And finally, I must mention that Toni Basil returned to the show (after making an appearance earlier in the season with the dance troupe The Lockers).¬† This time Basil does some great scat singing (and, of course, dancing) on the old tune “Wham”…(re bop boom bam).

It’s an impressive performance with a touch of Cyd Charisse in the choreography.

Bravo SNL!

 

-PD

 

 

 

North by Northwest [1959)

A film critic’s most daunting task is tackling that which has been pored over for decades.¬† What can be left to write about a film such as this?¬† This is no doubt one of the most famous movies ever made.¬† What has accounted for its “staying power?”

There is, of course, the well-tailored Cary Grant in his grey suit and tie (grey tie) thinking thin while suavely moving between Madison Ave. and points west.¬† There is the deliciously-evil James Mason whose one-liners ring with Shakespearean gravity in their chilly enunciation.¬† Even Martin Landau…with his iconic, effeminately-sinister visage makes a lasting mark upon the viewer’s brain.¬† And then there is Eva Marie Saint:¬† her glowing locks like Garbo in Technicolor.¬† These are great characters, but there is something more.

Situations.¬† What would Sartre and Debord make of this dissection?¬† This critical tangent?¬† The crop duster scene.¬† Surrealism.¬† Beckett, but back to Finnegans Wake.¬† Somehow screenwriter Ernest Lehman tapped into the non sequitur nature of Joyce’s masterpiece (akin to Hawks’ approach in The Big Sleep [by way of Raymond Chandler]).¬† It is one of the greatest situations in cinema.¬† There are few scenes more iconic than Cary Grant in full stride trying futilely to outrun an approaching plane.

The overarching situation involves the C.I.A.¬† Leo Carroll is fantastic in the short-but-powerful role of The Professor.¬† We sense a Donald Rumsfeld sort of character.¬† Polite.¬† Gentlemanly.¬† But certainly a man of the cloth in the dark arts.¬† It is perhaps fitting that we end up atop Mount Rushmore…that gargantuan creation of Gutzon Borglum (himself a mysterious if not shadowy personage).

But all of these methods merely attempt to approach what can be summed up only as essential cinematic viewing.¬† In Hitchcock here we find an apex of craftsmanship and imagination.¬† Not even the masterful performance of Grant can usurp the controlling role of our auteur.¬† It is a slippery slope.¬† Had the film failed to deliver; failed to age well, it would have been Hitchcock’s fault.¬† Somehow this greatest of all directors managed to make all the elements work together in a dramatic harmony of color.¬† Cinema is the closest we come to a truly synesthetic art.¬† When films start to differentiate themselves by their smells and the ways they literally touch us, we will have tasted the future.¬† For now, pinnacles such as North by Northwest have yet to be surpassed.

 

-PD