Recently my girlfriend and I spent some time in front of the tube. As I flipped channels, I happened across Gone With the Wind. Though I don’t care for the film, she indicated that she liked it, so we took in the final 40 minutes or so of it. Of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to rail against some of its excesses, and I also noted that Wind really does offer the ultimate “chick flick”. My girlfriend essentially agreed, which made me wonder if any movie out there can so easily be considered as the definitive “guy’s movie”.
I couldn’t conjure such a title, but she quickly responded with 1980’s Caddyshack. When asked why she chose this film, she replied that many of the men she knows seem to regard it as their favorite flick.
So there you have it! Until I or someone else can come up with a stronger candidate for the ultimate man’s movie, I’ll go with my girlfriend’s declaration of Caddyshack. However, I must note that this flick would reside nowhere on my personal list of faves; while the film offers some very funny segments, it falls far short of classic status in my eyes.
Although most tag lines don’t work very well, the advertising description of Caddyshack still makes sense: “the snobs against the slobs!” Caddyshack features no overriding storyline beyond that theme, but it does include a number of subplots that carry it through its brief running time. Probably the least interesting of these follows Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), a working class teen who toils at the local country club as a caddy. Danny has stronger intellectual skills than most of his submoronic peers, however, and he strives to head to college soon. Since his family can’t easily afford this - his Irish-Catholic parents clearly don’t believe in birth control - he attempts to snare the annual caddy scholarship when the original winner loses it.
Danny acts as the connection for most of the other main characters, the majority of whom are the members of the club. He always caddies for spacey millionaire and golf savant Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), and he kisses up royally to Judge Smails (Ted Knight), the man who controls the awarding of the scholarship. The paths of those men cross when Smails’ niece Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan) comes for the summer, and Ty hooks up with her.
While this clearly bothers Smails, his main nemesis becomes crass real estate developer Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield). The antithesis of the “old money” Smails represents, Al just wants everyone to loosen up and party, and his fun-loving attitude quickly irritates the judge. Ultimately, the tensions build until Al challenges Smails to a high stakes golf match; Ty plays on Al’s side, while Smails recruits Dr. Beeper (Dan Resin). This climactic match eventually involves Danny as it tests his loyalties: will he care more about friends or money?
In addition, a few other subplots occur. Danny has to deal with his girlfriend Maggie (Sarah Holcombe) and some competing caddies, mainly represented by tough-guy Tony (Scott Columby). We also meet assistant greenskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), a slow-witted guy who becomes obsessed with the annihilation of a pesky gopher.
Although Carl and the gopher are a very minor aspect of the film, don’t tell that to the folks who created this DVD’s artwork. Murray and the rodent are the first elements mentioned on the back cover’s plot synopsis, and the two are pictured prominently. Admittedly, I can’t really criticize this emphasis, for Murray and the gopher have become Caddyshack’s best known ingredients. Heck, apparently there’s even a market for toy likenesses of the rodent, as I’ve seen dancing plush representations of the beastie at local stores.
I also won’t fault the DVD’s accent on these characters simply because nothing else about it really took charge. Although Caddyshack boasted all those many subplots that I mentioned, none of them ever maintained particular prominence and rose above the others. Technically, the movie’s about Danny and his issues, but it seems clear that director Harold Ramis’ heart wasn’t in it from that point of view. As I watched the movie, it felt strongly as though the original concept for the film stressed the caddies and their points of view, but once Ramis assembled the terrific adult talent, it became impossible to ignore their work. As such, the caddies fell to the background, with only the minor connecting element of Danny’s character remaining.
And I must stress the word “minor” for Danny’s adventures often seem to have little to do with the construction of the film. Would the film have been any poorer if Danny and the caddies had been removed from the story? I seriously doubt it. If anything, those aspects of the tale make it drag. I especially disliked Danny’s interactions with Maggie, who seemed like a drab and disagreeable character.
As a whole, Caddyshack functions as little more than a conglomeration of otherwise isolated comedic elements. The film is poorly paced and choppily edited. But despite all of those flaws, it works, mainly because of the wonderful mix of performers at its disposal.
When Caddyshack arrived in the summer of 1980, Bill Murray hadn’t yet established himself as a prominent film performer. Though 1979’s Meatballs was a modest hit, he remained best known from his work on Saturday Night Live. However, after his supporting turn here, he moved on to bigger and better roles; 1981’s Stripes gave him a prominent lead in a successful film, and by 1984’s Ghostbusters, he became one of the world’s most popular actors.
Of the entire cast, I think Murray was the only one who really parlayed Caddyshack into something bigger, though one could argue that it also helped fellow SNL alumnus Chase. He’d already made a few moderately successful movies prior to 1980, but he hadn’t been able to turn his early TV success into the prominent film work he clearly desired. After 1980, Chase scored decent hits with 1983’s Vacation, but nothing else he’s done since then really caught much positive attention.
Actually, on second thought, I think it’s likely that Caddyshack helped motivate the moderate film successes experienced by Dangerfield. He emerged from his stand-up roots and nailed a few decent hits like Easy Money and Back to School. None of the other performers quite reached the heights of Murray’s later experiences, though.
In any case, all of them combined nicely in Caddyshack, and they bear the sole responsibility for its success. Ramis usually displays a sharp comedic mind, but he didn’t seem to have much control over these proceedings. As I already noted, this is a sloppily made film that often appears to be rather amateurish. However, the comic talent enables the piece to work fairly well despite its flaws. Is Caddyshack the ultimate man’s movie? Probably not, for it seems too clumsy and dated to merit that title. However, the strong roster of performers means that it often offers a very funny experience, despite quite a few slow moments.
Caddyshack appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, Caddyshack offered a rather unimpressive visual experience that demonstrated a number of concerns.
For the most part, the picture appeared to be reasonably sharp and distinct. However, quite a few examples of softness interfered with the presentation. These didn’t dominate the film, but they occurred much more frequently than I would expect. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no significant problems, but print flaws were a more substantial issue. The picture looked fairly grainy much of the time, and I also saw periodic instances of speckles, nicks, streaks, grit and general debris. These lent a dirty look to the film much of the time.
Colors appeared generally muddy and heavy. Skin tones displayed a moderately pinkish tint, and the movie also exhibited some blotchy red lighting. At times, the hues looked reasonably accurate, but much of the time they seemed to be runny and messy. Black levels appeared to be acceptably deep and rich, but shadow detail looked thick and somewhat impenetrable; low-light situations were too difficult to discern. Despite all of these concerns, Caddyshack occasionally presented a reasonably attractive image. However, the preponderance of these concerns made the movie look uglier than it should; even though it was an older, low-budget piece, it still should have provided a cleaner, clearer picture.
Also relatively weak was the monaural soundtrack of Caddyshack. Speech usually sounded acceptably distinct, and intelligibility wasn’t a concern. However, the dialogue displayed some signs of edginess, and Caddyshack suffered from a fair amount of genuinely bad looping; many lines did not integrate well with the action. Music seemed to be reasonably clear, as did effects, but both elements suffered due to very restricted dynamics. There was little range to the audio, which meant the entire package sounded flat and thin. This wasn’t an unlistenable affair, but it seemed awfully bland and lackluster.
Frankly, it was hard for me not to consciously contrast the presentation of Caddyshack to another 1980 film that starred SNL veterans. If you check out the DVD of The Blues Brothers, you’ll find a fairly clear and vivid picture and a lively 5.1 soundtrack; put simply, these elements blew away those of Caddyshack. However, I must acknowledge that these comparisons may be unfair. Blues was a big-budget summer blockbuster, while Caddyshack was a small comedic romp. Still, the differences between the two DVDs seem to be striking.
Another area in which The Blues Brothers easily tops Caddyshack relates to their respective extras. Although this “20th Anniversary” edition of Caddyshack replaced an older bare-bones package, the reissued DVD didn’t add many extras to the table. The main attraction is The 19th Hole, a newly produced documentary that discusses the film. During this 30-minute and 50-second program, we discover the usual mix of film clips, shots from the set and interviews with participants. In regard to the latter, we hear from actors Chevy Chase, Cindy Morgan, Hamilton Mitchell, Scott Columby, and Anne Ryerson, as well as producer Mark Canton, executive producer Jon Peters, and director Harold Ramis.
The interviews offer the most significant component of the documentary, as we hear a lot of fairly interesting stories from the set. This piece lacks any emphasis on nuts and bolts details of the production; frankly, they don’t tell us much about how the movie was actually made other than to relate that much improvisation took place. Instead, we find a slew of good anecdotes that discuss many behind-the-scenes occurrences, most of which are fairly entertaining.
The absence of both Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray is a negative, however. The others speak of them, but we see no new footage of the pair. However, the program helps compensate for this through some fun outtakes from the set. Most of these offer alternate takes of existing scenes, though we do get to check out a little of one excised segment. The majority of the outtakes feature Murray, and they’re an enjoyable little addition to the package. “The 19th Hole” is too brief and a little too glib, especially during Columby’s remarks; he tries hard to generate laughs that don’t come. However, I thought “The 19th Hole” offers a breezy and entertaining piece that helps complement the film.
Otherwise, Caddyshack provides few materials. We get decent Cast and Crew biographies for actors Murray, Dangerfield and Chase plus director Ramis as well as the film’s theatrical trailer. This feels like an awfully sparse package. Ramis has provided audio commentaries for many of his films - Bedazzled and Analyze This come to mind - and obviously a lot of unused material still exists; these would have made the set much more compelling.
Still, this seems to be an improvement over the first DVD release of Caddyshack, and it’s probably the best we’ll see for quite some time. As for the film, it was an erratic and clumsy affair that worked nonetheless due to the stellar talents featured in its cast. The DVD offers somewhat weak but generally acceptable picture and sound plus a minor complement of extras. This package seems too weak for me to highly endorse it, but Caddyshack remains an entertaining movie. If you can get past the lackluster nature of the product, you should enjoy it.