This movie is so funny you forget that it’s incoherent as hell.
Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) is a caddie at the snobbish Bushwood Country Club trying to save for college. Danny often receives advice, and tips, from Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), an eccentric and wealthy son of one of the club’s founders. Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight) offers a scholarship which Danny tries to pursue while sucking up to the Judge. Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), a rich slob who owns a construction company, shows up and starts playing golf at the club, upsetting Smails. At the same time, Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), a greenskeeper, is ordered to hunt down a gopher that’s been tearing up the course. He starts by trying to flood the gopher out, then shoot him, but without success.
Danny helps his girlfriend Maggie O’Hooligan (Sarah Holcomb) wait tables at the Country Club and finds himself drawn to Smails’ niece, Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan). Danny wins the caddy golf tournament, leading Smails to invite him to the Yacht Club, where Lacey and Danny hook up and have sex in the Judge’s bed. Smails catches them, but, rather than firing Danny, lets him keep the scholarship in exchange for his discretion.
Unable to deal with Czervik’s obnoxious behavior, Smails tells him that he’ll never be a member, only for Czervik to state that he just wants to buy the club to demolish it. Ty Webb tries to get them to talk it out, only for Czervik to challenge Smails to a golf match. Webb and Czervik will play Smails and local champ Dr. Beeper (Dan Resin) for $40,000, soon doubled to $80,000. During the match, Czervik, losing, fakes an injury and Danny takes over in the tournament. On the final hole, the score is tied, with Danny having to make a tough putt to tie. Czervik doubles the bet based on whether Danny makes it, but Danny leaves the ball hanging over the lip. However, at that moment, Carl, having gone insane trying to kill the gopher, explodes a number of C-4 charges (to the tune of the “1812 Overture”), knocking the ball in and destroying the course. Czervik leads a wild party and the gopher, unharmed, dances to “I’m Alright.”
The category for this film was “Film That Has a Line that You Quote Repeatedly,” and while there are a lot of movies that I quote frequently, this movie is the only one that has two phrases which I have used on the record in court. Both of them are by Carl Spackler, because Bill Murray improvised most of Carl’s lines, making them among the funniest and most unusual in the film. The first is “Correct me if I’m wrong, Sandy…” which, in the movie, is followed by “but if I kill all the golfers, they’re going to lock me up and throw away the key.” Due to the rarity of situations in which I am asked to kill golfers, I almost exclusively use the first part, but that is my go-to sarcastic way to clarify something ridiculous that someone says. The second line is “So, I got that goin for me, which is nice.” That line is the end of one of the most memorable parts of this movie, Carl’s speech about being a professional caddy to the Dalai Lama. I’m just going to put it below, because everyone deserves that joy in their life.
This movie was, from a production standpoint, a crapshoot. Most of the actual “plot” of the film got rewritten, re-shot, or just abandoned during filming as bigger and bigger stars got attached. The film was originally supposed to focus primarily on the caddies, particularly Danny and his desire to go to college, but once Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase and Ted Knight joined, the movie quickly became more about them than about Danny. However, since they had already scripted a bunch of scenes about the caddies, some of them were left in, leading to strange plot threads that get dropped, like the rivalry between Noonan and caddy Tony D’Annunzio (Scott Colomby), or resolved in five minutes, like Maggie’s pregnancy scare. Additionally, they kept coming up with, admittedly funny, ideas during filming, like having a Bishop play a near-perfect game of golf only to get struck by lightning when he curses as he misses the last putt. Because of this, a lot of critics correctly pointed out that this film seems scattered and incoherent.
But who gives a crap about that, because this movie is funny as hell.
Look, whether it’s coherent or not, this movie contains some of the most memorable comedy bits of my childhood. Lines and scenes from this film influence comedy writing to this day. I’ve seen multiple shows directly lift the gag of having a Baby Ruth in the pool appear to be feces. Aside from Fletch, Ty Webb is the epitome of Chevy Chase as a perfect wise-ass. His complete and utter unwillingness to behave like a normal person fits better in this movie, because he has too much money and no responsibilities. Bill Murray as Carl Spackler is a comedy archetype now, despite the fact that he had no scripted lines. Murray just improved the whole thing. It’s the only movie in which Murray and Chase have ever been on-screen together. Rodney Dangerfield’s entire film career started here, and Al Czervik was basically re-written to be Dangerfield doing his stand-up routine so that it came off as natural and genuine. Since Dangerfield was one of the biggest stand-ups in the world at the time, this makes his character hilarious. That’s basically what the movie is: A bunch of talented people playing to their strengths with almost no actual oversight.
It should be mentioned that this film was notorious for the amount of drugs on set. Peter Berkrot, an actor whose role got repeatedly cut down during filming, called cocaine “the fuel that kept the film running.” I don’t know exactly who was doing what, but it’s entirely possible that the frenetic nature of the film, and Harold Ramis’s willingness to keep letting it get less coherent overall, was because everyone was coked out of their minds.
Overall, if you haven’t seen this movie, you need to. It’s got a lot of parts that might not work for you, but it’s got a hell of a lot more that will. Gunga galunga.
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