Caddyshack (review)

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Beat the Rich

There was a time when juvenile comedies were not about screwing innocent pastry or injuring defenseless household pets. Long ago, movies aimed at the high-school and college crowds occasionally had some substance to them, had a point of view and something meaningful to say, even if it was buried under crass comedy.

I speak of Caddyshack, from the era, now long gone, when movies starring SNL alum were not embarrassments, and the suggestion of something gross was funnier for being only a suggestion. Directed by Harold Ramis (Bedazzled, Analyze This), and written by Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Douglas Kenney, this nearly plotless, angry class comedy is more a barrage of traded insults and slights than anything else, and it refreshingly recognizes that class has nothing to do with money or lack of it.
The bad and the boorish, the obnoxious and the racist all come together at Bushwood Country Club, and that’s only the members. Cheapskate rich bastards and their drunk, spoiled kids ruin all the fun of the caddies, who are just trying to earn a few bucks. Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), caddy and self-described underachiever, decides to shoot for winning the club’s caddy scholarship only because the prospect of a future in manual labor terrifies him. His best chances lie with kissing up to Judge Smails (Ted Knight), a bigshot at the club, though this earns Danny the derision of the other caddies. And his new association with the judge means he crosses paths with the judge’s sexy niece, Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan), who threatens his relationship with sweet Maggie O’Hooligan (Sarah Holcomb), snack-bar minder and waitress at the club.

Meanwhile, Bushwood groundskeeper — the skanky, somewhat deranged Carl Spackler (Bill Murray: Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore) — has been set loose to dispose of the pesky gopher that has been ripping up the golf course. (Does that make him a gopherbuster?) Carl embarks upon the task with gusto, armed to the teeth with grenades and six-packs, not for the least reason that he would much rather be blowing up the golfers than the gophers.

But it isn’t only the country-club members who are the baddies, and the poor, Oliver Twist-like caddies and groundskeepers the heroes (though I love the image of the very young caddy trying to haul a golf bag bigger than he is). Club member Ty Webb (Chevy Chase: Christmas Vacation) is the rich bastard who’s sneakily a good guy underneath his asshole exterior. (Ramis uses the typically deadpan Chase to great effect: watch for the underplayed scene in which Ty demonstrates his method for drinking tequila.) The crude Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), condo developer and nouveau riche “menace,” would seem to be the perfect antidote to the snide snobs that populate Bushwood — like the doctor (Dan Resin) more concerned with his game than his patients and the uncharitable bishop (Henry Wilcoxon: The Greatest Show on Earth) who thinks his own game is divinely blessed. But Al is as offensive and downright toxic, in his own way, as any of the annoying WASPs he’s so intent on stinging. And the ridicule of the caddies heaped on Danny’s desire to improve his own life — by going to college — is a dig at the working-class attitude that “getting above yourself” like that only makes those you leave behind look bad. Surely the greaseball dump of a caddyshack the caddies hang out in — you can practically smell the sweat and stale cigarette smoke — is nowhere anyone would want to spend forever. But you’d never guess that to look at most of Danny’s coworkers.

Caddyshack is anti-elitist, sure, but only in the sense that it deflates those who use their perceived superiority to lord over others. It has nothing good to offer about someone, like the judge, who would cheat at a game like golf in which you are your own only competition, and someone, like Al, who dismisses Bushwood as “a crummy snobatorium” but obviously couldn’t wait to get there himself. And in the end, it’s Ty’s philosophical advice that rings truest: “Find your center. Be the ball.”

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