I will undoubtedly get crushed for this one, but cross another one off the list of seemingly legendary movies that I had not seen until just recently. Then again, I feel like popular culture, or at least the version of it with which I interact, is full of enough references to Caddyshack (1980) that I had viewed it without actually viewing it. Does that make sense? Neither does the movie, but that is a different story. Bill Murray as Carl Spackler is, of course, what most people seem to remember from the film. With his drooping lower lip and disregard for the safety of others in dispatching the gopher terrorizing the fictitious Bushwood Country Club, not to mention the insanity of his lines, this secondary character has taken on a life of his own. The bits and pieces of the film I had managed to clap eyes on seem to have all focused on him, even though he is not the focus. He also created a bit of an identity crisis for me while finally sitting down to watch it. As you will see, the majority of the content is quite crude. It is presented as a comedy, and there were only a few scenes at which I mildly chuckled. As such, was Carl supposed to be comedy relief from the comedy? If so, this fell flat for me as well.
Caddyshack awakens in the apparently Catholic household of high school senior Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), judging by the number of siblings tumbling out of every room, and the religious regalia adorning each wall. As such, Danny’s hopes of going to college seem slim, particularly when his father (Albert Salmi) gives him some distressing financial news. Seeing no alternative, he rides his bike through a grand suburban neighborhood and takes his place as a golf caddy at the prestigious Bushwood Country Club. His first assignment is to tote the golf clubs for one of the richest members, the ace golfer and Zen philosophizing Ty Webb (Chevy Chase). He also learns that there is a college scholarship given to the best caddy at the club. Unfortunately, the purse strings for these funds are controlled by Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight). Judge Smails treats everyone below his socio-economic status as part of the help, though Danny is determined to gain favor with the judge. This is made all the more difficult by the arrival of the gaudily attired, gaudily spending, gaudily talking, and just plain gaudy Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield). Al needles the more staid Judge Smails at every turn. In spite of his lowly status, Danny is able to score some points when he covers for the frazzled judge’s tossing of his golf club at nearby patio deck, nearly injuring a lunch-time patron. Danny steps in and takes the blame, earning him an invitation to . . . mow the judge’s lawn, of course, and then come to the launching of his new sailboat. Said boat is then sunk when an out-of-control vessel of the motorized variety with Al at the wheel drops its anchor on Judge Smails’ sloop. Later on, an already irritated Judge Smails is goaded into playing a match with Al, wagering $20,000 on the outcome. They are each able to pick partners, and Al chooses Ty. This seems like an easy victory for them as Ty had been putting golf balls within feet of the pin while being blindfolded. Unfortunately, as seems to happen so often in sports, Ty picks then to have one of his worst outings, undoubtedly the result of him keeping track of the score for the round. Making matters worse is the fact that Al is also playing terribly. When they agree on a replacement for Al, they opt for Danny, who had earlier won the caddy golf tournament. Sensing an opportunity for a big pay-day, they also decide to double the stakes. Joining the other team means that Danny will lose the caddy scholarship. He is buoyed, though, with some ready-made financial encouragement from Al. Again, like any great sports movie, it comes down to the last play. If Danny makes a put, they win the money and the judge is humiliated before the sizable crowd that has gathered to watch a golf match this is supposed to be against club rules. When his stroke comes up short, practically leaning over the hole, all seems lost. Remember what I was saying in the introduction about Carl and his all-out war against a rodent? For much of the evening and day leading up to the impromptu battle of rich dudes on the links, Carl had been seeding the course with explosive meant to blow the wily gopher to kingdom come. With Danny’s ball hovering on the verge of tipping into the hole, that is the moment Carl chooses to set off the explosions. The series of blasts that spray the fairway with a great deal of soil (and do not terminate their intended target) shake the ground enough for Danny’s ball to sink into the pin and win the match. Judge Smails fumes, everyone else rejoices among the newly formed craters, and the film ends.
There are some parts I left out of Caddyshack because in order to explain a non-existent plot I chose to focus on one character. The movie is more of a collection of people cobbled together acting out prescribed roles. It works more for a comedy because in this genre, one typically does not look for dramatic character development. And as I have said in talking about other comedies, they are often difficult to describes in regards to how they are funny. Still, I am not sure how this one is consistently humorous. I already mentioned my issues with Carl’s character. The others are there to deliver mildly chuckle-worthy lines. Ty’s are good because they border on the non-sensical and random, and that is usually a sure-fire way to get me to laugh. I appreciated Al’s one-liners, too, though I could have done with less of his outrageous antics. The worst is the boat scene. Given the set-up, it is pretty obvious what is about to happen. We are then forced to watch him, eyes bulging more than usual, wildly spin the wheel of his boat through a busy waterway. I get it, he is clueless as to how to steer his vessel. Still, the scene is redeemed somewhat when he accuses Judge Smails of scratching the anchor that sinks the sail boat.
Another aspect I left out of my description of what can only loosely be called a plot in Caddyshack are Danny’s love interest(s). There are two females of note here, and the first we meet is Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan). Her last name is supposed to be a reference to her, AHEM, “free-spiritedness.” She carries on first with Ty, and then with Danny. This last might be seen as a problem to the girl we are led to believe Danny is dating, Maggie O’Hooligan (Sarah Holcomb). She is but one example of a subtly anti-Catholic vibe that is present in the movie. There is Danny’s large family, which is a Catholic stereotype found in plenty of other movies. There is a crack about the Catholic college Danny had wanted to go to, the fictional St. Copious, having only two women and both of them are nuns. And there is the initially prudish, and clearly Irish (though her accent is all over the place), Maggie. I mean, she is Irish, so of course she must be Catholic, right? Then, like any other teenaged girls of a similar background, she freaks out when she thinks Danny got her pregnant. There are other references, such as the strange side-scene when Carl caddies for an old-time golfer in the middle of dangerous thunder storm. The elderly gentleman is having the round of his life, but when he claims infallibility the Lord apparently takes his life with a bolt of lightning. Finally, you have Ty, despite his philosophical nature, claiming at one point that there is no God. I am not sure why there are all these covert and overt jabs at Catholicism. Would audiences in 1980 have found this particularly funny? I should know the answer to this considering I wrote a stinkin’ dissertation on the subject, but even I found it puzzling. There seems to be no reason for all these references to the Faith, and yet there they are, sprinkled in periodically. They do not overwhelm the film, but they are enough to get noticed, particularly by me. Strange.
As with many films that have a large following, I am sure many of you have already seen Caddyshack. If that is the case, then damage done, I suppose. For me, if you want a better movie from the same year, watch The Blues Brothers. With that one, there is a reason for there to be Catholic references. And while the Faith is not taken entirely seriously, the title siblings do end up saving a Catholic orphanage. I will take this over the Catholic jabs, nude scenes, and drug doing found in Caddyshack.