Monday, October 17, 2011

Caddyshack

There are few movies more heavily quoted among middle aged American males than 1980's CADDYSHACK. Perhaps a distant second might be 1985's FLETCH, which also features actor/comedian Chevy Chase. Both films' dialogue and wisecracks are very often incorporated to everyday speak for said demographic. Someone not enarmored with such communication might take pity on these guys, believing that it is a form of denial of "real life" of responsibility, of the seriousness of a brutal world. By composing entire conversations of things like "I feel like a hundred dollars," or "Gunga Galunga", perhaps fans of these movies have allowed escapism to at least partially define them. You are what you watch?

I preach about that all the time. I'm always fascinated at how otherwise intelligent people spend their time with the most brainless TV shows, movies, and music. Hours of unchallenging drivel that just numbs the brain. When I take them to task on this, they argue that their jobs and lives have sufficient challenge, and they just want some mental bubblegum. I understand and agree. But, if that is all you consume, I don't believe that new neural pathways will be forged. The brain needs stimulation, new data to foster dendritic branching and learning. If you feed it with complex music and art that requires some effort, I believe you will have better capacities for reasoning and conceptualization and you may well stave off that dreaded placquing that can cause degenerative brain diseases.

I am not a neuro scientist, but I know enough to see the results in my own life. If I go on autopilot and only listen to the 80s "comfort food" with which I grew up, well....I crave classical and jazz and other genres and works which allow for more active listening. I suppose an argument could be made that the familiar things can be healthy for you, for blood pressure and anxiety and the like. But there has to be more.

Hold on. This is a review for CADDYSHACK, fer cryin' out loud! Not a lot of mental taxing occurs while watching it. Should I bother recounting the plot? OK, in a nutshell: Danny is working class kid who caddies at a snooty country club with members like Judge Smails (Ted Knight, red faced almost the entire time) and Ty Webb (Chevy Chase, coolly detached as usual). Ty likes the kid and shares his Zen-like outlook on life as he blatantly shows off on the links (blindfolded at one point). Smails also takes a shine to Danny and offers him the coveted Caddy Scholarship. Meanwhile, an assistant greenskeeper, Carl (Bill Murray) spends the movie trying to flush out a pesky gopher that is digging tunnels under the course. The obnoxious Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) shows up and fires off one liners that viewers familiar with Dangerfield's stand-up act will recognize.

But the plot is just a skeleton on which to hang a series of scenes in which the 4 name actor/comedians get to do their patented shticks. CADDYSHACK is most interesting, to me, as a document of the men's wildly different comedic styles. Chase is all diffidence and nuance, goofily suave and blissfully bored. Knight is pure bombast, spending the movie being outraged at one thing or another. He has that certain timbre in voice when he's angry and impatient. We saw a bit of it on The Mary Tyler Moore Show but here it boils over, especially in his scenes with Dangerfield, who plays a perhaps neuveau riche loudmouth who flings wads of cash and is a complete antithesis to the sort of member the Bushwood Country Club desires. His style is crude and unsubtle, and often hysterically funny.

That leaves Murray, whose Carl has become iconic in its incoherency. He stalks the grounds with water hoses and explosives, on a mission to exterminate the gopher, a character all its own (played by a cute furry puppet). All the while he mumbles things that sound ad-libbed ("I'll fill your bagpipes with Wheatena") and acts like a proto-stoner-hippie-guru-of-some-sort. He's mostly off on his own, though he does have one scene with Chase, sharing a joint. Perhaps the broadest comedic moment involves his retrieval of a Baby Ruth during a swimming pool disinfection. Knight and his wife (thinking the candy bar is, er, something else) recoil in horror as Carl bites down on it, "It's not so bad!".

This may all sound pretty undisciplined. Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed CADDYSHACK in the most casual way possible, and in the film's defense I say it was the correct choice. Script? The plot isn't taken seriously for a second. The supporting cast seem almost as blase as the star players. It's a very loose, harmless movie (although my mother freaked when some female toplessness was visible in a few scenes when I watched it with her when I was 12, oops!) that provides some chuckles and a few golden moments. All of the comics are in a good form, though it would've been better if they all interacted a bit more and the silly storyline were dropped entirely.

It's easy to see why so many people my age quote CADDYSHACK so often, but I wish they would also maybe utter a few lines from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS or LION IN WINTER for balance. Be good for their grey matter.

NOTE: CADDYSHACK was filmed in part at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Davie, FL in 1979. Over 20 years later, I went to Nova Southeastern University, right across the street from it. One of my clasmmates lived in a condo which had a good view of it. Funny. I looked for Carl a few times.

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