While the Masters have come and gone in Augusta, Ga. as of this posting with the winner being Scott Scheffler, it’s hard to watch Caddyshack and even think about the Masters the same way again. The winner in my mind will also be Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), the grizzled but not too bright assistant greenskeeper at the pretiguos Bushwood Country Club who was a “Cinderella Story.”
Even if you don’t care for golf, and I don’t, you don’t need to worry about it as you watch Caddyshack. Golf and the country club are more of a plot issues for rebellion against a system that is meant to favor the rich and elitest. The plot revolves around a young man, Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), who wants to go to college. But since he is Roman Catholic, his parents have more children than they can hande. He doesn’t have the right grades to get an academic scholarship either.
Danny works at Bushwood in hopes of raising enough money, but his father wants him to skip being a caddy and go work at a lumberyard to make more money (and possibly forget about college as he finds his own place and a woman to be his wife.) Originally intended as a coming of age story, Caddyshack was one of the best movie productions ever (or one of the worst) depending on who you talk to. It all became possible thanks to the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House as Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney (co-writers on that movie and this one) were approached to make a follow-up. Brian Doyle-Murray (who plays Lou Loomis who supervises the caddies) based the script on his youth of working as a caddy in the Midwest.
Ramis was the director as Kenney was the producer. But neither one had much of a deal without a big name. So, they got Chevy Chase to appear in what was supposed to be a small role, akin to Donald Sutherland’s in Animal House. Yet, Chase did so much improvisation, they kept adding scenes. It was also reported that Murray only had six days to film all his scenes and they weren’t sure he was even going to be able to until he finally showed up on set. Since Chase and Murray were so popular at the time, the powers that be demanded more scenes.
Also, enter Rodney Dangerfield in what is his first big role as the rich and very extravegent Al Czervik, a real-estate developer whose construction on property near the club is driving gofers onto the country club, much to the anger of Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight) who is part owner of the country club and throws around his social standing while on the course. With a powerhouse of actors and comics such as Chase, Dangerfield, Murray and Knight, much of Danny’s story as well as his rivalry with tough guy caddy Tony D’Annunzio (Scott Colomby) ended up on the cutting room floor.
Also, other caddies such as Motormouth (Hamilton Mitchell) and Grace (Ann Ryerson) were reduced to small supporting roles. Danny’s relationship with Maggie O’Hooligan (Sarah Holcomb) is also reduced and seemes to come off more as a soap opera subplot. Yet, for some reason, this all still works, which is saying a lot because Ramis was very inexperienced when he took the director helm. An urban legend was floating around that he looked through the wrong end of the camera. Ramis later clarrified it saying he was so busy talking with a production assistant when a camera operator asked him where to film, he pointed non-chalantly off to his side where the cast and crew were standing around.
While Danny’s story as he tries to obtain a caddy scholarship by cozing up to Smails doesn’t get much attention, it really doesn’t need to. Caddyshack is a movie about people breaking the rules, not abiding by them. The filmmakers even said it was like an R-rated Marx Brothers movie with Dangerfield as Groucho, Chase as Chico and Murray as Harpo with Knight in the Margaret Dumont role. And while Chase, Dangerfield, and Murray get the most laughs, Knight is very underrated in his role as Smails. It takes a lot of an actor to play a character who so goofy and stuck-up and makes him work in both ways. Watching Knight make exagerrated faces to the madness around him as his grandson Spaulding (John F. Barmon Jr.) seems to embarrass him or trying to control his promiscuous niece, Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan) is the work of a true actor.
That’s not saying the rest of the cast don’t kill it. Murray’s Cinderella Story monologue as he pretends to be an announcer giving commentary as he uses a grass shear to whack some flowers. And Murray’s scene with Chase as they smoke some homegrown pot is one of the movie’s highlights. It’s even better realizing at the time, Murray and Chase weren’t on good terms after a fight that broke out backstage before a Saturday Night Live taping. Chase has said since then they get along better. But the scene was only shot because the studio heads at Orion Pictures wanted a scene between Murray and Chase, so Ramis worked with the two to put it together on Murray’s last day of filming.
Filmed in Florida doubling for the Midwest, much of the movie was filmed on an actual golf course that had a hotel on its grounds. This led to some problems as the cast and crew were spending most of their nights doing cocaine, getting drunk and even taking the golf carts out. Barmon, reportedly almost suffered a serious injury. And late-night party antics led to many of the cast and crew having to be woken up by production assistants. Even though Knight was known for his friendly behavior off set, he reportedly got angry at the cast for some of the antics. Chase reportedly once dropped a deuce in Knight’s trailer knowing Knight would suspect Dangerfield.
The golf course was also near a big commercial airport. John Murray, brother of Bill and Brian, was a production assistant who had to spend all his day radioing in when a plane was taking off so it wouldn’t ruin a take. To film the ending where Carl sets off plastic explosives to kill the golfers, they underestimated the amount leading to a huge, loud explosion. People initially thought a plane had crashed.
When they started editing the movie, Ramis said they had to link the scenes together to make them less episodic. This is how they got Mr. Gopher to appear in scenes during post-production, much to the dislike of Kenney. Initially, the movie wasn’t as critically successful with many famous critics dismissing it. Made for under $5 million, it made almost $40 million in North America and $60 million worldwide.
In later years, it’s become one of the most loved comedies of all time. Unfortunately, Kenney wouldn’t live to see its legacy. Released in late July 1980, Kenney was very disappointed and suffered from depression. He went on a vacation to Hawai’i with Chase in August of 1980. When Chase went back to California, Kenney reportedly went for a walk in Kauai but fell to his death off a cliff. Some people have rumored that Kenney committed suicide, while others, including Chase argued against that. Ramis famously quipped that Kenney was “looking for a better place to jump from, when he slipped.”
Knight, himself, would die in 1986 to cancer. Sports reporter Rich Eisen would say years later, Knight was the funniest performer in the movie. And despite fears that golfers would hate it, many professional golfers love it. Tiger Woods would parody the movie in an American Express commercial. And Murray’s ad-libbed Cinderella Story monologue is considered one of the best in movies.
So, it’s got that going for it…which is nice.
What do you think? Please comment.