When Harold Ramis passed away last week, America indeed lost a national treasure. Men who have ever gone to college or lived with a group of buddies lost the comedic genius whom they could always recognize as a Ghostbuster, but really got to know as co-creator/director of the greatest sports movie of all-time: “Caddyshack.”
You could make a strong argument for at least 10 different sports or sports related films worthy of being heralded as the Industry Standard for the respective genre. But what makes the debate so complicated is actually as simple as identifying a very real gender discord. A big part of why “Caddyshack” stands at No. 1 sports movie for me hangs on my theory that all attractive women despise the film. And that’s totally cool. Women know love, and guys know juvenile behavior. I’m not going to try and pretend I know where “The Notebook” or “Ghost” ranks in the pantheon of mushy films.
There are some exceptions in the catalogue of sports film for which both sexes typically agree on. “Field of Dreams” is a borderline filmmaking masterpiece. And I get that it’s a movie about playing catch with your old man. But my old man and I, given a choice, are taking “Caddyshack” every time. I’d rather watch “Field of Dreams” with my girlfriend, mom or even solo. Same with “Rudy”, “Hoosiers”, “Miracle” and probably even “Rocky.”
If and when you feel comfortable enough to open up a little with your significant other and reveal your guilty pleasures, beware of “Caddyshack.” If you’re shameless enough to make it the main attraction for the evening, by the :45 minute mark she’s usually saying, “I don’t get why you like this movie.” Or, “What’s the point of this movie?” If she’s your wife, she’ll start cleaning the house at the :25 minute mark, and soon enough, begin nagging you as if your life is a mirror image of Carl Spackler.
Now you’re in the dog house, not the big dog house, but a dog house, nevertheless. The only way to get out of this is to skip both Sunday AND Monday Night Football in successive evenings. But you’ll never think less of Ramis’ “Caddyshack.” I assure you.
If you’re in a hopeless relationship and looking for a classy way to turn off the girl, show her “Caddyshack.” If she’s not going down easy, proceed to “Animal House” (for which Ramis co-wrote). Any order works, but only a freak of nature can muster both.
Critics will say that while Mr. Ramis may have been the leader of the production on paper, “Caddyshack” was a star driven movie led by comedy Hall of Famers Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, and Chevy Chase that the film’s gopher himself could’ve directed.
Well if sportswriter Sam Smith’s best-selling book, “The Jordan Rules” taught me anything about self-centered stars, it’s that Michael Jordan does not materialize into a championship-grade performer without Phil Jackson’s impressive aptitude in the field of project management. A comparison could be made with the way Ramis coached showbiz phenoms Murray, Dangerfield and Chase during Caddyshack. Ramis had to manage all three of his megastars differently. Murray had just a few scripted lines. Chase did not have the improvisational chops Murray did-not to mention the two had a history of not getting along. Dangerfield knew little about acting.
Take a look at what the script read for Bill Murray’s famous “Cinderella story” scene, as displayed in the film’s featured DVD documentary “The 19th Hole”:
EXT. CLUBHOUSE (SAME DAY – LATE AFTERNOON)
The sky is beginning to darken. Carl, the greenskeeper is absently lopping the heads off bedded tulips as he practices his golf swing with a grass whip.
Obviously Murray went on to improvise an entire monologue that every sports fan can recite. But Ramis didn’t just get comfy in his director’s chair and call out, “Action!” As told by Ramis in the feature, the director gave Murray food for thought before rolling the film.
“Bill, whenever you’re playing sports,” as Ramis remembers it. “Do you ever talk to yourself like you’re the announcer? I used to try jogging for a while and pretend like it was the Olympics…
“…So then Bill says, ‘I know exactly what you mean, say no more.’”
When you talk about Murray’s greatest film hits, with the exception of “Lost in Translation”, Ramis has been an essential part of the equation: Ghostbusters (co-wrote and co-starred), Caddyshack (directed and co-wrote), Stripes (wrote and co-starred), and Groundhog Day (directed and co-wrote).
Chase went on to reveal a little known fact that Ramis was responsible for inspiring the Clark Griswold character made famous from the hit National Lampoon’s “Vacation” series. Ramis earned a writing credit for the original “Vacation” as well.
“And with Ty Webb the same thing,” Chase recalled in “The 19th Hole.”
“(Harold Ramis) gave me the attitude.”
For Dangerfield, “Caddyshack” served as the comedian’s very first part in a full-length feature film. “Rodney needed every word, every syllable in place,” Ramis recalled. In order to take his method acting approach as real estate tycoon Al Czervik, to what one of the producers described as, “next level comedy,” Dangerfield needed to rehearse his lines the night before shooting his biggest scenes with the director himself.
Place your bets indeed on Ramis and Caddyshack for best sports flic ever. The Chicagoan became a comedy filmmaking expert who never appeared to compromise the integrity of his craft in exchange for fame and wealth.