It’s not a stretch to call 1980’s Caddyshack a satire of class relations in contemporary America. For those unaware of the plot (and until 2 days ago that included me) the film follows Danny, the son of a large blue-collar family who aspires to go to college but has neither the funds nor the grades. He has a job at Bushwood Country Club, a golf club for the superwealthy, as part of the caddy underclass. When the caddies learn that the country club’s caddy scholarship is up for grabs, Danny decides to ingratiate himself with Judge Smails (Ted Knight), one the most influential members of the club. Complications include girl troubles, an unlikely mentor relationship with a freewheelin’ golf pro (Chevy Chase), and an uncouth nouveau riche real estate tycoon (Rodney Dangerfield) who ruffles the feathers of the establishment members.
Unfortunately, aside from the pleasure gained from intellectualising Caddyshack, there is not a lot to recommend this movie.The film’s narrative is so weak that you don’t realise there is a protagonist until half an hour into the film and the motivations that drive Danny have to be ascertained by mentally stitching together events that might make up a central thread. Obviously, part of this is intentional. Harold Ramis on his first directorial outing has deliberately used the bare narrative as the backdrop for some disparate comic setpieces. I would be OK with this is the laugh rate wasn’t so low. Part of the reason the laugh rate is so low is the quality of the jokes. For example, seeing someone being hit in the balls is barely capable of mustering a weak chuckle. Part of the reason the laugh rate is so low is the poor comic timing. Jokes that are weak to start off with are stretched out to barely endurable lengths while some scenes suffer from bad framing and editing that do real injustice to the performances.
Bill Murray makes an appearance as a greenskeeper entrusted with the task of killing a pesky gopher. It’s hard to imagine how he came to be today’s indie darling because he might be the worst thing in Caddyshack. The gopher-killing subplot is completely superfluous and seems to exist solely so Bill Murray can provide the film’s deus ex machina. Watching Bill Murray in Caddyshack is like watching bad standup comedy: The harder he tries the more embarrassed you are for him. To top it off, the gopher is realised in the form of a poorly crafted sock puppet akin to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog but tragically missing the ability to induce laughter. The only upside is that Caddyshack started a healthy working relationship between Murray and Ramis that would continue with Ghostbusters and the indisputable classic Groundhog Day.
I’m not quite sure that the soundtrack by Kenny Loggins enhances the experience. If this is one of those cult films that people laugh at rather than with, I can see how Kenny Loggins adds a level of camp that would round out the Caddyshack experience. More troubling is the rampant sexism in the film. If men are the comic geniuses of Caddyshack then women are merely there as objects to be ogled. The humour of the mammary gland is exploited to full effect while the male appendage is kept firmly from sight. It would be Judd Apatow two decades later who championed the visible penis in the mainstream Hollywood comedy.
But speaking of male comic genius, it is impossible to deny Rodney Dangerfield who is undeniably the star of Caddyshack. His ill-mannered, fun-loving entrepreneur provides pretty much the only inspired moments of comedy. (Most of Dangerfield’s dialogue comes from his own standup writing). If you don’t know Rodney Dangerfield, knowing that Mr Burns’ son in The Simpsons is a tribute to Dangerfield tells you all you need to know. Unfortunately, Dangerfield doesn’t appear in every single scene of this movie. I would suggest compiling all the Dangerfield scenes that you can on youtube and watching that instead of the whole movie. It would probably be the only way to watch Caddyshack and not feel like you had wasted one and a half hours.
SEE THIS WITH:
Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001)