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'Caddyshack' right on course as a low-budget laugher

MoviesBill MurrayAirplane! (movie)Michael O'KeefeJaws (movie)Chicago Tribune

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune July 29, 1980

This latest "Son of Animal House" is set on a country club golf course. But the setting makes no difference; it's the proper mix of dirty jokes, slapstick, and juvenile humor that writer-director (and former Chicagoan) Harold Ramis is after as he and producer-writer Douglas Kenney (the "Animal House" producer) seek to strike box-office lightning twice.

Thus "Caddyshack" has Chevy Chase cast as a golf pro and professional lothario; Bill Murray as a grubby assistant greenskeeper fighting a never-ending war against a mischievous gopher (played by a hand puppet!); Ted Knight doing his old Ted Baxter number as a pompous country club president and local judge; and comedian Rodney Dangerfield beautifully cast as a boorish real estate developer who dresses as if his clothes were designed by Roy G. Biv.

These four comedians are supported primarily by one sex object, a pretty young thing named Lacey Underall (get it?). The main story--and in this sort of comedy there isn't much need for one--involves the attempt of an earnest young caddy named Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe) to win the club's annual college scholarship. This has Danny toadying up to club president Knight while all hell is breaking loose around the club.

To wit: somebody throws a Baby Ruth candy bar into the club's swimming pool with director Ramis cleverly choreographing the predictable results like the beach attack scene in "Jaws."

In other less amusing bits, the boorish Dangerfield passes gas at a dinner party and the following day crashes his mammoth powerboat into Knight's dinghy.

Meanwhile Bill Murray (whose brother Brian Doyle-Murray also wrote the script) delivers soliloquy after soliloquy. "Caddyshack" is funny about half of the time it tries to be, which is a pretty good average for a comedy, ranking just under "Airplane!" in this summer's comedy sweepstakes.

What possibly accounts for the success of films like "Caddyshack" (it should be a modest hit) and "Airplane!" and "Animal House" is their total lack of pretense at a time when so many films are coming on as very pompous.

"Caddyshack" has a low-budget look that warmly welcomes the all-important teenage audience. It looks like a film they could have made. And everyone associated with the film—in front of and behind the camera—is aware that he or she is making a frivolous film.

That's why Rodney Dangerfield's cornball jokes and spritzing barbs are so perfectly right for the film. These are throwaway jokes for a most disposable motion picture, the kind of film that drive-ins were designed to play.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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