Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's In the Hole ... Well, Not Exactly

"Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac ... It's in the hole! It's in the hole!"

Carl (Bill Murray)
#92 on the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 movie quotes of all time

I have friends who will tell you that "Caddyshack," which premiered 35 years ago today, was the greatest comedy ever made. I'm not one of those people. The first time I saw "Caddyshack," I got some chuckles out of it, but I figured that you had to be a golfer to really appreciate the humor — as haphazard as it was — and I still feel that way. I have never played a round of golf in my life.

Film critic Roger Ebert may have put it best. The movie, he wrote, "never finds a consistent comic note of its own, but it plays host to all sorts of approaches from its stars, who sometimes hardly seem to be occupying the same movie. There's Bill Murray's self–absorbed craziness, Chevy Chase's laid–back bemusement, and Ted Knight's apoplectic overplaying. And then there is Rodney Dangerfield, who wades into the movie and cleans up."

Dangerfield shook things up, all right.

But, even so, I found "Caddyshack" to be a disjointed tale with humorous scenes linked together by a story that really wasn't much of a story.

"The movie never really develops a plot, but maybe it doesn't want to," Ebert wrote. "Director Harold Ramis brings on his cast of characters and lets them loose at one another. There's a vague subplot about a college scholarship for the caddies, and another one about the judge's nubile niece, and continuing warfare waged by Murray against the gophers who are devastating the club."

Each of those subplots had its moments, but the movie never really united those elements behind a single story. As I said, golfers probably got a lot of the humor. Much of it escaped me — or came across as hopelessly juvenile.

"Maybe one of the movie's problems is that the central characters are never really involved in the same action," Ebert wrote. "Murray's off on his own, fighting gophers. Dangerfield arrives, devastates, exits. Knight is busy impressing the caddies, making vague promises about scholarships and launching boats. If they were somehow all drawn together into the same story, maybe we'd be carried along more confidently. But 'Caddyshack' feels more like a movie that was written rather loosely, so that when shooting began there was freedom, too much freedom, for it to wander off in all directions in search of comic inspiration."

It did have a kind of improvisational quality to it — sort of a "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" goes golfing (with some sailing on the side). Don't misunderstand. Improv can be good. Sometimes it can be very good. But I can't think of an example when it worked in the motion picture format.

The thing is that I liked all the stars — but in what I regarded as their own milieus. Ted Knight was great as Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Chevy Chase was funny on Saturday Night Live — which he had left a couple of years earlier and was replaced by Bill Murray, who struggled at first with a skeptical public but eventually endeared himself to viewers and found his niche on the show.

But I just never got carried away with "Caddyshack." I remember seeing it when it first hit the theaters — and laughing at the obvious points that tend to amuse young viewers. But much of it — like the Baby Ruth bar floating in the swimming pool — just didn't amuse me after I got past that stage in my life.

I'm not even sure I was amused by that the first time I saw it.