Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Caddyshack is a sporting comedy film released in 1980, and it was directed and co-written by Harold Ramis for his feature film debut. Set at the prestigious and exclusive Bushwood Country Club, the film follows a number of colourful characters on or around the golf course - a washed-up professional taking a young caddie under his wing, the club's stuck-up co-founder clashing with an obnoxious new member and an insane groundskeeper battling some troublesome gophers. The film stars Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O'Keefe and Bill Murray. The film boosted the career of Dangerfield who was largely known for his stand-up comedy at the time. The film received a mostly negative reception from critics initially, although contemporary reviews tend to be more positive, turning the film into something of a cult favourite. Audiences were much more impressed with the film, helping the film to earn $60 million worldwide and encouraging the studio to greenlight a sequel, 1988's Caddyshack II, which sadly failed to recapture the success of this first film.
What's It About?
At the Bushwood Country Club, Danny Noonan is a young man working as a caddy in order to raise enough money to get himself into college. Caddying alongside laidback golfing guru Ty Webb, Danny alternates between living the high life with his fellow caddies and cosying up to the influential Judge Elihu Smails who co-founded the club and runs a caddy graduate program. Smails is keen to preserve the club's elitist membership but is enraged to discover that obnoxious property magnate Al Czervik has joined, quickly disrupting the snobbish atmosphere by splashing the cash and rubbing the other members up the wrong way.
Czervik actually intends to purchase the club in order to acquire the land for a proposed property development. Upon learning this and frustrated by Czervik's boorish behaviour, Smails proposes a round of golf to decide their dispute. Meanwhile, Danny falls for Smails' promiscuous young niece Lacey Underall who is visiting the club during the summer while the club's resident groundskeeper Carl Spackler is on the hunt for a gopher who is disrupting the course via a series of tunnels. Unfortunately, Spackler isn't the most sensible of employees and his unconventional methods run the risk of ruining everything...
What's to Like?
Few films reflect their time quite as much as Caddyshack which proudly wears its late Seventies & early Eighties vibe on its Titleist sleeve. It's not just the stars of Saturday Night Live at the time on the cast list but the Kenny Loggins song playing over the opening credits, the deliberately loud fashion choices and the film's heavy reliance on comedy based on almost every bodily function. Without question, the greatest of these is the cast - Chase and Murray, who weren't quite the megastars they would become, are excellent in very different roles. Chase's idiotic ladies man is good in a subtle way, more through dialogue than the outrageous slapstick Murray uses so memorably to steal the film as the relentlessly dim Spackler. He may benefit from having cinema's cutest gopher to play alongside but if you think of anything about Caddyshack after the film has ended, it'll be Murray running around a golf course with a shotgun.
But the SNL influences don't end with the cast. The film feels much more like a collection of comic sketches loosely based around golf instead of having one cohesive narrative running throughout. This may be the film's secret to making Rodney Dangerfield the focal point - his machine-gun delivery of insults and put-downs works in small doses but a whole movie would get annoying quite quickly. Besides, the film isn't just a Dangerfield demo tape and contains plenty of old-fashioned slapstick and visual gags. The best moment comes when a swimming pool is quickly evacuated because of food-based confusion but it encapsulates the film's humour nicely. It's all very puerile and immature but if you're in that sort of mood then the film will surely hit the spot more often than not.
- Much of the film was improvised on the set such as Murray's "Cinderella" monologue and the oil massage scene between Ty and Lacey. However, this didn't sit too well with other members of the cast. Ted Knight was constantly wound up by the horseplay on set and other cast members found their parts in the film reduced after the cameos by Murray, Chase and Dangerfield were expanded.
- Chase and Murray had a long-running feud stemming from a confrontation between the pair on SNL. Weary of his two biggest stars refusing to work together, Harold Ramis wrote the one scene in the film featuring the two together with them at a lunch. Contrary to Ramis' fears, the two were professional and the shoot went without a hitch.
- The production became notorious for the amount of cocaine used on set which caused problems later in the shoot as cast and crew turned up late for filming. O'Keefe claimed that cocaine was driving everyone and co-star Peter Berkrot described cocaine as "the fuel that kept the film running".
- The film's co-writer, Douglas Kenney, was upset at how differently the film ended up from his initial vision. At a press conference for the film, Kenney was seen drunk and began throwing insults at the media. His substance abuse issues had reached such a point that Chase took Kenney to Hawaii in order to try and get him in a more relaxing environment but Kenney fell to his death from a cliff, aged just 33.
What's Not to Like?
If I'm being honest, I feel that the immature nature of the comedy in Caddyshack is a bit below me these days. I'm in my forties now and the constant stream of toilet humour and cheap objectification of any female character felt far too passé for my tastes. When I was much younger when I first saw the film, I enjoyed it far more than I do now so take from that what you will. I've no doubt that there is an audience for this kind of comedy and the recent success of Jackass Forever suggests that there is. But much like the original Jackass, I'm not sure whether I would still find it funny today.
What's most frustrating about this film is the almost complete lack of focus. When the film starts, you feel as though we are about to follow young Danny on his quest to achieve a better life for himself - albeit, a quest involving lots of goofing around and leeching off the club members. Instead, his character almost fades into the background as Chase, Dangerfield and Murray take over and you don't really see him again until the finale. You could argue that O'Keefe didn't step up and deliver a quality performance but remember, he was up against some genuine comedy legends in top form. But the film certainly suffers from a lack of cohesive narrative which prevents it from feeling like an actual movie. Blame the drugs if you want but Harold Ramis wasn't able to keep the production under control and that vibe comes across strongly, unfortunately.
Should I Watch It?
There's enough here to suggest that Caddyshack could and perhaps should have been a better film that it is. But halfway through production, Ramis realised that his trio of comic stars were overshadowing his film and instead simply riffed some sketches instead of finishing the film as intended. There are certainly some highlights to be enjoyed here such as Murray's battles with the gopher and Dangerfield being a one-liner machine. But it's too messy and puerile and hasn't aged as well as you might have hoped.
Great For: golfers, pot heads, viewers with short-term memory issues
Not So Great For: children hoping to see the cute gopher puppet in action (the rest of the film is simply not suitable), actors who aren't comic geniuses, anyone without an immature sense of humour
What Else Should I Watch?
The other thing that ages the film is just how similar it is in tone and style to a host of other, frat-boy comedies released around that time. From the likes of Animal House to National Lampoon's Vacation, these films were purely designed to get their respective stars over with audiences (John Belushi and Chevy Chase, respectively). After Belushi's unfortunate passing in 1982 due to substance abuse, things thankfully calmed down and comedies became much more focused as a result, presumably because studios weren't supplying cocaine to productions. Chase continued enjoying Vacations as well as find his signature role as investigative journalist and murder suspect Fletch. The emergence of John Hughes was significant after classic films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains And Automobiles while Ramis would find more fame as an actor after starring in the iconic Ghostbusters. His best film as a director would see him reunite with Murray in one of the best comedies of the Nineties, Groundhog Day.
Golf is a difficult sport to translate to movies as it's a sport that has a certain appeal which, if you don't have it, makes golf just a good walk that's been spoiled. A far more effective golfing comedy comes, perhaps surprisingly, from Adam Sandler - Happy Gilmore has become so popular with audiences that its unique way of teeing off has now become something of a meme in the sport itself. Kevin Costner isn't afraid of tackling any one of America's favourite past-times in a film and he gives the sport the Costner treatment with Tin Cup, a fairly predictable romantic comedy but is still worth a watch if you're so inclined. But Caddyshack's legacy still means it's one of the better golf films made, even being shamelessly ripped off by much lesser efforts like the dire Who's Your Caddy? which, unbelievably, can count former US president Bill Clinton as one of its fans. Although thinking about it, this says far more about Clinton's tastes than the quality of that particular film.
Judge Elihu Smails
Douglas Kenney, Harold Ramis & Brian Doyle-Murray
Release Date (UK)
14th August, 1980
© 2022 Benjamin Cox