By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Blow-up the gopher.
Trying to work his way through college, Danny (Michael O’Keefe) gets a job as a caddie at an exclusive golf course. He becomes friends with Ty (Chevy Chase) who is the son of the club’s co-founder. He also begins caddying for Judge Smails (Ted Knight) in hopes to get on his good side since the Judge is also in charge of the caddie scholarship program, which Danny hopes to win in order to help pay for his education. The Judge and Danny form a hot-and-cold relationship with the Judge usually more annoyed with Danny than not though he does warm-up to him after the Judge accidentally hits an elderly woman with a golf club that he recklessly threw, but gets off-the-hook for taking the responsibility when Danny comes forward and takes the blame. The man though that really causes the Judge’s ire is Al (Rodney Dangerfield) a wealthy real-estate tycoon, who begins golfing at the club and constantly makes fun of the judge at every turn. Al considers the judge to be an uptight elitist snob, while the judge sees Al as being uncouth and lacking in social graces. The two men ultimately square off in a high stakes golf match just as the club’s dim-witted groundskeeper Carl (Bill Murray) rigs the course up with tons of dynamite in an attempt to get rid of a pesky gopher that’s been destroying the grounds.
This was another film that upon its initial release, like with The Shining and Blade Runner, was given a lukewarm response by the critics, but has since then become a classic by the vast portion of the movie going public. Part of the reason this one didn’t gel well with the critics is because of what was considered ‘sloppy’ comedy that had very little story and relied too heavily on gags to keep it going. The script, written by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill, and Douglas Keeney, was supposed to emphasize the caddy’s more and be a coming-of-age comedy, but the producers, much to the writer’s dismay, decided to throw-in more colorful characters including a gopher who chews up the course and constantly avoids capture, which was an idea that co-writer Douglas Kenney really hated. The result made the story come-off as being too loosely structured and more concerned with creating comical bits than making any type of statement.
I admit when I first saw this movie over 20-some odd years ago that’s how I came away feeling too, but this time I approached it more as a day-in-the-life saga between society’s have-and-have-nots with the caddies portraying the working class while the course’s nouveau riche clientele made up the establishment. When taken in this vein the film works really well and I especially liked the way the Danny and the Judge’s relationship evolves throughout with the judge ultimately much more dependent on Danny than you might’ve originally thought possible.
Of course it’s the comedy that makes it all come together and there’s truly some side-splitting moments including the infamous Babe Ruth candy bar in the pool bit that was the one thing about the movie that I had remembered when I first saw over 2-decades ago and now upon viewing it a second time had me rolling over in laughter even more especially when you realize that it apparently is based on a real-life incident that occurred to writer Doyle-Murray while he worked at a golf club in Winnetka, Illinois. I also really enjoyed the moment where we see Bill Murray’s incredibly makeshift living quarters inside the course’s utility shed that features a reunion between he and fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. The two had gotten into a well publicized fist-fight behind-the-scenes while working on that show a couple years before, but both managed to work together in this scene, which had been written-in at the last minute by director Harold Ramis for exactly that purpose, without a hitch.
Rodney Dangerfield’s star-making turn as the crass, but wealthy patron is a riot too and I particularly enjoyed his over-sized, multi-purpose golf bag and his nervous fidgeting especially his twitchy legs when he stands, which was all genuine and anxiety driven. Knight quite good too in a perfect caricature of a pompous jerk though he reportedly was vocally upset during the production at the excessive partying and hijinks that went on amongst the rest of the cast members, including a lot of drug use, which he felt was unprofessional. I even liked Cindy Morgan as the Judge’s niece and resident ‘hot babe’ who despite being a blonde was fortunately not portrayed in the stereotype of being dumb, but instead as savvy and observant. Followed 8 years later by a sequel, which will be reviewed next.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: July 25, 1980
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Director: Harold Ramis
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD, Amazon Video, Hulu, YouTube