‘Caddyshack’, the cult comedy released 40 years ago this month, has been a favourite since I accidentally came across it on TV sometime in the late 1980s.
It now seems an almost forgotten and/or strangely ‘forbidden’ movie despite some cult status amongst golfers and hardcore fans of National Lampoon and ‘Saturday Night Live.’
With a corking cast of Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight and Cindy Morgan, its basic pitch is ‘”Animal House” at a country club’, but for me it’s a funnier movie than John Landis’s 1978 hit.
It’s chaotic, unhinged, poorly structured, hard to follow, mostly improvised and won’t win any woke awards, but many scenes still make me chuckle like a teenager. In particular, Chase and Murray’s monologues and druggy non-sequiturs.
Directed by Harold Ramis (‘Groundhog Day’) and shot at Rolling Hills Country Club (now Grand Oaks) in Florida during September and October 1979 , ‘Caddyshack’ is ostensibly a coming-of-age story concerning amateur caddy Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe).
On release, the critical reception was unsurprisingly poor but it did pretty good business ($40 million against a $6 million budget), if proving a bit too weird for any kind of ‘Animal House’ action. But, like most Hollywood movies of the era, there are a myriad of ‘what ifs’ and surprising revelations around its making. Here are just a few of them:
17. The bishop struck by lightning after shouting ‘Rat farts!’ (Henry Wilcoxon) was a silent-movie star back in the 1920s, working in several Cecil B DeMille films.
16. ‘Caddyshack’ was Rodney Dangerfield’s movie debut.
15. Bill Murray (Carl Spackler) was the last actor to be cast, and his totally unscripted role was initially only supposed to be a cameo.
14. Ted Knight (Judge Smails) was an Emmy-winning star of the legendary ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ TV show in the 1970s.
13. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase (Ty Webb) were sworn enemies during the shoot due to some bad-mouthing in the press after Chevy had left ‘Saturday Night Live’. Their famous improvised scene was a last-minute addition after the studio insisted they appear on screen together.
12. Cinematographer Stevan Larner had previously worked on Terrence Malick’s ‘Badlands’.
11. Recently-departed, legendary composer/arranger Johnny Mandel (‘Theme From M*A*S*H’, Steely Dan’s ‘FM’) wrote the incidental music for the movie.
10. Mickey Rourke was first choice for the Danny Noonan role but turned the producers down at the final hour.
9. ‘Caddyshack’ was Harold Ramis’s directorial debut.
8. Co-writer and National Lampoon legend Doug Kenney died in strange circumstances soon after the film was released.
7. The pitch (‘Animal House’ in a country club) was given the green light by Orion studio bosses before they had seen any kind of story outline or screenplay.
6. The co-writers’ original idea was to make the film all about the teenage caddies (maybe that would have made for better box office… Ed.)
5. Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall) was a DJ in Chicago before becoming an actress.
4. Bill Murray was actually a greenskeeper as a young man, and his elder brother Ed was a champion caddie.
3. Danny Noonan’s large Irish-Catholic family was based on the Murray family.
2. The whole cast stayed in the same hotel throughout the shoot – and partied heartily.
1. Bill Murray’s shenanigans with the gophers was a last-minute idea – initially there had only been one scene with a fake gopher (the one where Rodney Dangerfield shouts ‘Hey, that kangaroo just stole my ball!’).