book was better." We’ve all uttered some
variation on this theme, driven by disappointment that
the story on the screen doesn’t match up with the
mental images conjured by a favorite tome.
here’s another variation: The book about the movie is
better than the movie.
Nashawaty’s "Caddyshack: The Making of a
Hollywood Cinderella Story" (Flatiron Books,
$26.99) is an astute and lively study of ’70s comedy
that zeroes in on a film considered a failure upon its
1980 release. The intervening years have turned it into
a cult classic, thanks to massive exposure on home video
and cable. If you’re of a certain age and temperament,
chances are you or someone you know can recite long
swaths of "Caddyshack"’s slapdash dialogue.
(My favorite remains Bill Murray’s Dalai Lama
monologue. Gunga galunga).
the movie critic for Entertainment Weekly, was an early
convert. "When people hear you’re a movie critic
they expect you to love Fellini and Kurosawa and Orson
Welles and Hitchcock," Nashawaty says by phone.
"I do love all that stuff, but I grew up on a
pretty steady diet of Caddyshack and Animal House and
Stripes. Those were the movies that sort of formed
about Nashawaty’s age, and I love "Animal
House." I really like "Stripes." But
despite the riffing of Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney
Dangerfield and Ted Knight, "Caddyshack" has
always struck me as a comedy sand trap. It plays like a
series of patched-together bits, which, as the book
reveals, is how it was made.
book, however, is a sterling example of how to construct
the story behind the story. As Nashawaty explains, three
comedic tributaries led directly to "Caddyshack."
There was National Lampoon magazine (which grew out of
the Harvard Lampoon), led by its troubled boy genius
Doug Kenney. There was the Chicago-based Second City
improv troupe, whose alumni include Murray, John Belushi,
Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. And there was
"Saturday Night Live" (initially called
"Saturday Night"), where so many of those
alumni burst into the public consciousness.
them they crafted an anarchic, anti-establishment brand
of comedy that seeped deep into the ’70s zeitgeist.
Once "Animal House" became the most successful
comedy of all time in 1978, the pressure was on for a
repeat success. Kenney co-wrote "Animal House"
and played the frat brother Stork. He got together with
Lampoon and SCTV veteran Harold Ramis, and Murray’s
brother Brian Doyle Murray, to hatch a snobs versus
slobs comedy set on the links of an exclusive country
club. Ramis directed. Kenney produced.
of them really had any idea what they were doing, other
than massive amounts of cocaine. "You go back and
watch it now and you can see Rodney’s knee twitching,
and you’re like, ‘OK, that explains a lot,’"
were written, gutted and reconstructed. If "Caddyshack"
feels like it was made up as it went along, it largely
was. Just about none of Murray’s lines, as the
demented, gopher-hunting groundskeeper Carl Spackler,
were written. Large chunks of story, mostly involving
the caddies, were excised entirely.
Nashawaty’s enthusiasm for the movie comes couched in
reservation. "It’s actually a pretty sloppy
movie, and I can only make a very personal, subjective
sort of case for its greatness," the author says.
"I have to overlook a lot of flaws. It’s
definitely a funny movie, but it’s not what you’d
call a well-made movie by any stretch."
enough. "Caddyshack" fans will delight in the
book’s on-set details, including the technical
challenges posed by that animatronic gopher. For the
rest of us, this is ground-level look at the birth of a
scene. The book is about half over before it gets to the
movie’s production, and that’s just fine. Once
again, the book is better.