Some movies are about golf. Some movies are about obnoxious upper-crusters being served humble pie. Some are about the misfits vs. the in-crowd. Some are about surviving the indignities of a crappy summer job so you can get wasted with your friends. Some are about hooking up with seriously off-limits people. Some are about determining if Baby Ruth candy bars really should look like something else. Some are about getting struck by lightning. Some are even about feuds with the local groundhog can only be settled once and for all with substantial amounts of plastic explosives. And then, there is Caddyshack.
The story takes place at the upscale Bushwood golf club, somewhere in Nebraska, where young Danny Noonan caddies during the summer for Elihu Smails, a powerful judge and, one of Bushwood’s co-founders. Somewhere in the background, the considerably less buttoned-up Ty Webb hangs about, playing golf and charming anybody within putting distance, including Smails’ promiscuous niece, the subtly named Lacey Underall. Into this comes Al Czervik, a brash land developer with the social graces of a barrel of monkeys. Czervik wants a membership, but if he can’t get it, he’ll gladly just buy the club and bulldoze it to make room for some condos. In the background, completely burned out groundskeeper Carl Spackler tries to kill a greens-killing groundhog while Czervik and Smails feud over the fact that Smails is a ultra-starchy jerk and Czervik has all the subtlety of a guy who won the lottery and then blew it all at his local strip club. Somehow, they decide to settle things over a winner-take-all round of golf in which Noonan and Webb join Czervik in an effort to save Bushwood from the cultural clutches of the old, rich white guys it was presumably built for in the first place.
You know, when you look at this movie like that, it kind of comes off as a dumpster fire that never should have been made. After all, one could just have easily replaced the actor’s names for the parts they payed in the synopsis you just read and it wouldn’t have made any difference, because nobody was really acting here. Caddyshack is a cauldron of character actors riffing off each other in between taking a whole lot of drugs when the cameras weren’t rolling. That the movie ever got finished seems somewhat miraculous. But for all that, the movie really is a lot of off-color fun, the kind that only could have been made in 1980, when National Lampoon was just establishing the kind of slovenly, lowbrow humor that would become its trademark and before the moralizing of the Reagan era went on its crusade to ruin the fun for everyone. It’s all best enjoyed in a state of compromised sobriety, when one’s ability to retain the movie’s many quotable lines is at its peak.
For the most part, Caddyshack is a sketch comedy held together by the common thread of life at Bushwood and the war between its elder silverbacks. Were it to be any more plot-driven, the movie would have collapsed under the weight of itself as we struggle to find any real reason for caring whether Danny finds the money to go to college, whether Ty finds some kind of direction, whether Smails gets the comeuppance he deserves, or whether Czervik will finally get some respect. Rather, the movie brilliantly knows that won’t hold our attention for long, and would suffer all the more for it if it did. And so, every time our attention wanders, we jump into another comedic non sequitur that reminds us that so long as we keep laughing, we really don’t care how goofy the delivery mechanism is. Thus do we get such memorable moments as the electrocution of an elderly club member who insists on golfing in a thunderstorm, a swimming pool evacuation caused by an errant chocolate bar (“It’s not that bad.”) and an extended look inside the world of Carl Spackler, who might be the most unhinged wierdo ever to work at any kind of private golf cub, real of fictional.
Spackler is perhaps purest distillation of every low impulse that Caddyshack’s entire production is going for. We don’t know why Spackler’s so messed in the head, just that we adore watching him mumble through oddball fantasy scenarios that seem to occupy more of his mental real estate than anything else. Spackler is so off-center that we actually buy that he’s routinely outwitted by a rodent, and that the only real solution he can come up with is to demolish the entire green. Spackler offers us an early look inside of Bill Murray’s comedic id, complete with a bucket hat, stained undershirt and a shiny film of stubble that really makes you wish he’d just shave and shower, already. He’s the kind of character who is so scene-stealing that you wish there was more of him in the movie, but the truth is, if there were, it would ruin things. Spackler’s a comedic treasure best used to flavor the thing around him. Just as nobody really should eat a whole brick of salt, nobody should really make a whole movie about Carl Spackler.
The closest we get to that is the movie’s moment of truth, a scene in which Spackler and Webb hang out, drink a bottle of wine, and smoke together. Honestly, it’s not the very best scene of the movie, but it is the only on-camera collaboration between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, two guys who made their bones working in the same circles, but couldn’t stand each other. Their hatchet-burying scene together tells you all you need to know about Caddyshack and the comedic environment that spawned it. It’s not about the story. It’s about the players, and the joy we get just by inhabiting their world in all its rude and raunchy splendor.