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

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).¬† That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.¬† It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to¬†externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:¬† The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…¬† He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.¬† All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.¬† Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen √Ėkonomie (1867). ¬†Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”¬† Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD

 

 

Trading Places [1983)

At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.

This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.

And it never failed to pull me in.

But back to business…it’s that one scene:

coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.

Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.

But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).

It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.

And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.

The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.

That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.

And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.

And the nudity.

Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.

But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.

At any rate, this is truly an American classic.

Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.

Why do I call him a hero?

Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.

It’s no wonder.

Watching this film.

The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.

But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.

Trading Places was just that:  a beautiful teaching tool.

In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.

The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.

Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.

Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.

There are some loving politics at work here.

What we have is a film about unity.  Dan Aykroyd.  Eddie Murphy.  Black and white.

There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.

I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.

But they were “feel-good”.

Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.

It is a film with a conscience.

That’s what makes it timeless.

I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.

It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.

I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].

Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.

We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.

Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.

But so much transfers.

Exeter.  Harvard.  Winthorpe.

And, of course, kindness transfers.  Jamie Lee Curtis.

So there you have it.

Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America.  Racism.  Opportunity.

Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.

This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.

 

-PD