CADDYSHACK - Blu-ray review

No matter how bad practically everybody thinks it is, practically everybody likes it.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"And I say, 'Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?' And he says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."
--Bill Murray, "Caddyshack"

When you think about all the films in the Warner Bros. catalogue that showcase the virtues of Blu-ray high-definition technology, you probably think of spectacular visual treats like "Amadeus" and "2001." But do you think of "Caddyshack"? Yes, it's the dumb film everyone loves. Face it: No matter how bad practically everybody thinks "Caddyshack" is, practically everybody likes it.

Although I find very few actual saving graces in "Caddyshack," like a lot of other people I harbor a guilty pleasure in watching this 1980 comedy again and again. "Caddyshack" is one of those ridiculous farces that has become a genuine comedy classic despite itself and shows up on one cable channel or another about six times a week. Every time I surf into it, I have to stop for at least a moment and chuckle. Could the film already be over three decades old? And does its being in high-definition make me revisit it more often? Probably.

Cowriter and director Harold Ramis ("National Lampoon's Vacation," "Groundhog Day") said that his initial intention was to create a comedy about a bunch of young caddies at a posh country club. But then he hired funnymen Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight, and he had to tailor the whole show around their talents. The resultant film goes in every direction. It hasn't so much a plot as it has a string of routines or set pieces spotlighting each performer. Some of the gags work, some don't, but it doesn't matter. Everyone is having so much fun, the cast and the audience, that the whole thing is like a communal experience rather than a movie.

The filmmakers set the action almost entirely at the snooty Bushwood Country Club, presided over by its most influential and snooty member, Judge Elihu Smails, played by Ted Knight. Knight basically reprises the character he played on the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" (remember Ted Baxter, the nitwit newscaster?), this time with more money but the same pompous, arrogant, haughty, know-it-all attitude. He's the balloon waiting for people to pop.

"I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them."

Chevy Chase plays Ty Webb, a wealthy young loafer with a passion for golf. Chase plays him with his usual laid-back, nonchalant air. He's our hero, able to remain calm and flippant under the most trying circumstances. The judge asks him why, if he's so good, he never plays golf against other opponents or keeps score: "How do you measure yourself with other golfers?" Chase answers with perfect timing, "By height." It's that kind of casual insouciance that the rich refer to as eccentric.

"You're rather attractive for a beautiful girl with a great body."

Now, if you're poor, you're Bill Murray's character, assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler. Spackler is just plain goofy. He speaks with a demented twist to his lips that makes him appear mentally challenged, except that this apparently shell-shocked vet displays a sly streak as he wages a pitched battle with gophers throughout the film. For all intents and purposes he's in a movie to himself, and his character has become something of a legend in golf circles.

"He's on his final hole. He's about 455 yards away. He's gonna hit about a two-iron, I think.... It's in the hole!"

Rodney Dangerfield makes his motion-picture debut as a crass, obnoxious, loudmouthed multimillionaire condo developer named Al Czervik, obviously a role well suited to his stage persona. It is he who does the most puncturing of self-important, hot-air balloon heads as he crashes through the country-club set with flashy clothes, voluminous insults, and a gaudy red Rolls Royce.

"The last time I saw a mouth like that, it had a hook in it!"

Finally, almost lost in the crowd is Michael O'Keefe as Danny Noonan, a caddy who is trying to win a club scholarship to college. One can see at a glance that the film started out as his story, but with the appearance of the comics above, the movie quickly took another course.

Much of the humor falls flat, yet there are moments that remain indelibly etched in a viewer's mind. For instance, there is the gopher that practically steals the show. In one of the accompanying retrospectives, Chevy Chase says he hated the gopher, and who could blame him? It upstages all of the high-flying comedians. Special-effects wizard John Dykstra, who had worked on "Star Wars" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" before doing "Caddyshack," designed the little critter and his underground environs. While his creature is nothing more than a mechanized hand puppet, it is endearingly charming. We root for him.

"License to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations. Free to kill gophers at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit, ever. They're like the Viet Cong...the Varmint Cong."

Then there's the swimming pool scene that involves the caddies in an exquisitely choreographed synchronized ballet a la Busby Berkeley, as well a Baby Ruth candy bar floating in the water. I also liked the caddies betting on a kid picking his nose and the climactic detonation of the golf course. Everyone will have their own favorite silly scenes.

The Blu-ray disc presents the film in its 1.85:1 ratio theatrical dimensions using a VC-1 codec and a dual-layer BD50. Overall, the picture quality is pretty good, although it varies from bright, clean, and crisp to slightly rough and grainy, with almost everything in between. One would have hoped for greater consistency, but the video engineers apparently had to work with what they had.

The opening sequence is perhaps the grainiest, but the film does clear up considerably as it goes along. The filmmakers shot much of it on location at several Florida golf courses, and it is those outdoor scenes that sometimes reveal the most roughness. Then, too, faces in medium and long shots can occasionally look more than a bit dark. That said, the high-definition picture can also be gloriously sharp and well detailed, with close-ups particularly vivid and natural. Who knows.

WB processed the audio in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and it, too, can be variable. The sound is sometimes a little hard and edgy, and voices can in a few scenes sound a touch nasal; otherwise, the clarity is outstanding. No, the soundtrack doesn't have much of a front-channel stereo spread, and only a few times did I notice anything coming out of the rear speakers, these during musical numbers. Yet its strong dynamic impact and midrange lucidity make up for some of its other shortcomings. One thing: You're not going to miss a word the characters say.

For the movie's thirtieth anniversary, WB added an exclusive bonus item to the Blu-ray release: the eighty-minute, 2009, high-def, A&E Biography Channel documentary "Caddyshack: The Inside Story." It's an entertaining retrospective with many of the cast and crew looking back and commenting on the filmmaking.

The other item is a thirty-minute, 1999 featurette called "The 19th Hole," featuring interviews with the movie's cast and crew, a number of outtakes, and some behind-the-scenes footage. It's in fullscreen and standard definition, but it's still fun to watch. In it, the filmmakers admit that the actors improved much of the movie's dialogue. They started with a fairly sketchy script and made up a lot of the dialogue and gags as they went along. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and the filmmakers say they wrote the whole scene between the two actors at lunch one afternoon.

In addition, the disc contains twenty-eight scene selections, a widescreen theatrical trailer, and the usual Blu-ray pop-up menus.

Parting Thoughts:
I don't know of anybody who thinks "Caddyshack" is a great comedy. At the same time, I don't know anybody who especially hates the film, either. In fact, most people I've talked to seem to hold a grudging admiration for it; like, "I know this is a really dumb picture, but it's fun." Maybe it's the movie's overall amiability that draws people to it, especially golfers. The Wife-O-Meter perhaps said it best after, surprisingly, she watched it for the first time: "That was about the stupidest movie I've ever seen." Yet she stayed the course from beginning to end.

The film gets an R rating for profanity, nudity, and sexual situations, most of it nonoffensive unless you're a member of the country-club set.

"Oh, rat farts!"


Film Value