Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not Since the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor ...

Bluto (John Belushi): Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

There seemed to be a real nostalgia wave in the 1970s. It was in music, in books, on TV and in the movies. It was everywhere.

I guess it is that way in every decade, for every generation. And I guess it is often nostalgia for the previous generation — for the way things were about 20 years earlier.

Well, maybe not, but that is how it was in the 1970s. Most of the longing seemed to be for the late '50s and early '60s.

By 1978, the time was right for spoofs, and National Lampoon stepped forward with "Animal House." I remember thinking of it as the anti–"American Graffiti" (If you're too young to remember "American Graffiti," it was a nostalgic movie that came out earlier in the decade — and, perhaps not–so–coincidentally — was set in 1962, the same year in which "Animal House" supposedly was set.)

John Belushi was the primary attraction for moviegoers that summer. Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon were making their big–screen debuts. Tim Matheson had been around for awhile, but nearly all his previous work had been on TV. He was a virtual stranger to movie audiences.

Donald Sutherland was probably the only cast member with extensive big–screen experience, but he wasn't the draw that Belushi, a national phenomenon since his Saturday Night Live days, was.

And Belushi was perfect for taking jabs at the establishment, whether it was on campus or somewhere else.

But his hard–partying reputation was particularly suited for lead booze–swigging frat boy. A few years later, everyone learned how tragically accurate that reputation was, but, in 1978, everyone was laughing.

In hindsight, there is often a poignancy to his lines:
"Grab a brew. Don't cost nothin'."

"See if you can guess what I am now. I'm a zit. Get it?"

"They took the bar! The whole f***ing bar!"

"Toga! Toga!"

"Seven years of college down the drain."
Belushi was a funny man. Everyone thought so, and people expected to laugh whenever they saw him.

Expectations may have been somewhat lower for the rest of the crew. Tim Matheson had been around for awhile, but he wasn't a household name until he played Otter.

Thomas Hulce had only been in one big–screen movie (which happened to be filmed in my hometown) when he played Pinto, but he went on to play Mozart in the Oscar–winning movie "Amadeus."

Kevin Bacon made his film debut as a smarmy Omega pledge in "Animal House," and he has gone on to appear in more than 50 movies since then, many of which have been hits.

Karen Allen made her debut in "Animal House" as well, and she, too, went on to appear in some very successful films. I thought she was very attractive when I saw her in "Animal House," and I continued to think so in her later movies.

(I've never seen the Indiana Jones movie in which she appeared a few years ago in her mid–50s, but I've seen pictures of her from that time, and I must say she still looks attractive. Older but attractive.)

You couldn't help empathizing with Allen's character. Her boyfriend was one of the officers in the Delta fraternity, and, on one occasion, she complained to him, "I'm in love with a retard!"

"Is he bigger than me?" her boyfriend asked.

The humor in "Animal House" was like that — it often needed a drummer to do the ba–boom after each gag line.

When I watch "Animal House" today, I guess the character with whom I relate the most is the one played by Sutherland.

An English professor named Jennings, Sutherland liked to be his students' friend, and I, too, enjoy casual conversations with my students — which can make it difficult when it comes time to lay down the law and make homework assignments or schedule exams.
Jennings: Don't write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring, too. He's a little bit long–winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.

[Bell rings, students rise to leave]

Jennings: But that doesn't relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I'm waiting for reports from some of you. ... Listen, I'm not joking. This is my job!

I just concluded my seventh year of teaching, and I know what he meant a lot better than I did the first time I saw the movie. Of course, I was on the other side of the academic fence then!

For me, "Animal House" is one of those movies that I can't pick my favorite line or scene. There were so many great lines and scenes that it is hard to limit myself to quoting or citing just one.

I simply enjoy it every time I watch it because it does what any great comedy should do every time. It entertains.