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‘…the kind of visionary, fin du siècle work which changes the trajectory of the lives of both participant and viewer alike…’

Ahoy polloi! What do we talk about, when we talk about Harold Ramis’ Caddyshack? A genuine seismic cultural event, Caddyshack in the kind of visionary, fin du siècle work which changes the trajectory of the lives of both participant and viewer alike. Co-written by Bill Murray’s brother Brian and partly based on his experiences of being a golf caddy, Caddyshack is a slobs vs snobs comedy that struck gold by catching huge talents on the way up, including Ramis, Bill Murray, comic Rodney Dangerfield, the gopher, songwriter Kenny Loggins, and of course, Chevy Chase. Caddyshack is a cultural totem these days, with Bushwood Country Club very much a useful prism through which we  understand the modern world; check out the classic SNL sketch 23 mins in here, it’s funny because it’s true, and that’s probably why you’ll watch, as Murray’s celebrated monologue suggests, with ‘tears in your eyes.’

‘I hear this place is restricted so don’t tell them you’re Jewish,’ is a good sample line here; the target of the satire here is the establishment, the white-bread, bigoted, racist establishment that Caddyshack identifies as finding its natural habitat in American golf, and specifically in elitist golf clubs. So Caddyshack is problematic today in that it depicts racism and bigotry, but non-snowflake viewers should have no problem understanding that such outdated attitudes are the target of the film’s irreverence. The apex of such backward thinking is Elihu Smails (The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Knight), a judge who opens his conversation with jokes about ‘a Jew, a Catholic and a coloured boy’; Smails fears all three of them encroaching on his lush, fecund sporting paradise. Smails finds his nemesis in ne’er do well Al Czervik (Dangerfield) an arriviste property developer who doesn’t respect the judge’s authority and ends up competing with him in a grudge competition with $80,000 at stake. Key Player Ty Webb (Chase) also ends up playing in the big golf game that marks the film’s explosive climax.

Yet unpeel the layers and there’s still more going on here. Caddyshack’s Manichean battleground of class conflict is the background to a more traditional coming of age story involving Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) and his first romantic experiences with breasts, and that’s not the iconic centre of the film; Murray’s recurring bits about a slovenly green-keeper and his eternal battle with a Gopher is probably the best loved thing about the whole film. Add to that list Dangerfield’s wide-eyed dance to Earth Wind and Fire’s Boogie Wonderland, the riot in the swimming pool when the uncouth caddies outstay their enforced 15 minute welcome, Chase demonstrating how to play blindfold golf (‘be the ball’), Sandy McFiddish the Scottish greenkeeper, Journey’s Any Way You Want It, Danny’s girlfriend’s hobbies (‘Going to bullfights on acid’), political commentary (‘Nixon plays golf’) and some classic comedy insults ranging from ‘Wanna make 14 dollars the hard way?’ to ‘You must have been something before electricity’. Sure, context is required for these gags, but you can get woke elsewhere. ‘This isn’t Russia’ as Chase notes, and he’s right; Bushwood Country Club isn’t like Russia at all, it’s all-American, and aims to lay shame the rich for their abberant behaviour.

This is the kind of film in which the officious, establishment character (the judge) can get hit by a wayward ball in the nuts by Dangerfield, who turns to the camera after shouting fore and quips ‘I should have said two!’ But it’s also an inclusive text, railing angrily against a stuck-up, prejudiced WASP world that quietly drops the obedient Danny when he provides the wrong answer to the leading question ‘Are you Roman Catholic?’ ‘The world needs ditch diggers too,’ concludes Caddyshack’s moral inquiry into 1980 mores; Ramis’ film is a revolutionary text in charting one major, if fictional victory in the war of the oppressed against the establishment, a real Cinderella story if ever there was one.


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  1. Not worried too much about wokeness I culd get excited about this picture all over again. Killer cast and plenty jokes. What more could you ask for? I appreciate you’ve put some effort into unpeeling the layers but I’m not sure I’d be particularly bothered. if it’s funny I don’t need it to be deep.

  2. A movie that it’s easy to remember liking, but the experience of watching it is something else. Hard to believe just how bad Murray is here.

    • I watched it last night and its still a transcendant masterpiece. And if creating timeless comic monologues is’bad’ then Murray is the worst; he’s hilarious in this film and you know it deep down.

  3. I’m going to use the ol Decision Tree method to determine if I should watch this or not.

    B: Oh great and powerful decision tree, should I watch this movie?

    DT: Does this movie have Chevy Chase?

    B: Yes.

    DT: Then the answer is NO and that’s final.

    B: I bow before your wisdom and unparalleled grasp of the human psyche, Oh Great and Powerful Decision Tree…

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