So…what happened to the “50 for 50 Summer Film Festival,” you might ask? Well, life happened. But even though we’re now in the last few days of summer, I’m determined to move forward with this project until #1 is reached. And thus, shortly this will become the “50 for 50 Fall Film Festival.” And for those who may have forgotten, this is where I’m writing about my 50 favorite movies, during the year that I turned 50. Clever, no?
But enough self-serving drivel. Let’s get back to the list. And since I’m making up the rules of this game, #46 is a tie, between two classic comedies that were released during the summer of 1980: “Airplane!,” and “Caddyshack.”
It would be hard to imagine two films more lowbrow than these two, and that is part of their appeal. Hell, that is their appeal. In one film, one of the funniest jokes involves the “inflation” of an “autopilot” that looks suspiciously like a sexual act made infamous near the end of a recent presidential term. In the other, one of the funniest jokes involves what appears to be the aftermath of someone taking a dump in the country club swimming pool. And there are plenty more where those came from, believe me.
When done badly, movies like this are horrible. But “Airplane!” and “Caddyshack” were not done badly; they were the stuff of genius. And yes, many of the jokes are incredibly stupid. But at the end of the day, these are movies where you start laughing from the opening credits, and don’t stop until the lights come back on in the theater. You can’t really ask for more than that.
The genius of “Airplane!” was its use of three veteran character actors who probably had not broken a smile in their entire careers – Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen. They were all well known, primarily through their work on television. In “Airplane!,” they maintained their usual dour demeanor, to absolutely hilarious results. The movie made Nielsen one of the most recognizable actors in the country, one associated with silly comedy – sometimes to great effect (particularly in “The Naked Gun,” another Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker masterpiece), sometimes in garbage, and always laughing all the way to the bank.
The genius of “Caddyshack” was hiring a couple of really funny old guys – Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight – and a couple of really funny young guys – Chevy Chase and Bill Murray – and basically letting them do their thing. At the time the movie came out, I would have said that Dangerfield was by far the funniest part of it. And don’t get me wrong – Dangerfield is hysterically funny. But 30 years later, it is obvious that the real genius in the movie was Bill Murray. His portrayal of Carl Spackler is not the kind of role that wins Academy Awards, but the performance will be remembered long after a lot of Oscar winners are forgotten. And the number of classic phrases in the performance is legendary. I think my favorite may be “hey Lama, how about a little something for the effort,” but you probably have your own favorite.
Virtual laugh factories, these two. Classic cinema? Perhaps not. Great movies? You’re darn tootin’.