MediaMay 20, 2015

Here's a review skewering "Caddyshack" when it first came out

A few months ago I introduced my 9-year-old son to "Caddyshack," which felt appropriate given his growing love of golf and zany comedies. The only parts I felt compelled to fast forward through involved a disrobed Lacy Underall, but even then, not much was lost in the way of plot development.

Charlie laughed plenty, and later bragged to his friends how we watched "Caddyshack" and that it was so funny, but in truth, you could see how the movie to him was really just a series of slapstick vignettes: the Judge getting nailed in the crotch with a golf ball, the spoiled antics of Spalding, the Bishop sprawled out on the green after getting struck by lightning. And this is to say nothing of the candy-bar-in-the-pool scene, an unquestioned cinematic triumph in the eyes of a fourth grader.

Overall, though, I'm not sure if Charlie quite "got" "Caddyshack," mostly because "Caddyshack" is hard to get. For one thing, the movie has a whole layer of social commentary  -- the rich vs. the help; old money vs. new money -- that is elusive even to many adults.

Related: Our favorite golf movie scenes

And to be honest, a lot of "Caddyshack"'s value needs to be reinforced by years of playing golf, when we repeat the same lines over and over in comparable situations: "Noonan." "Be the ball." "It's in the hole." Are these lines really funny, or have they been made funny because of how they've been ingrained in golf culture? I submit it's a little bit of both.*

(*I've confronted the same dynamic in my other favorite sport, hockey, where lines from "Slapshot" are nonsensical to the general public, but cited like gospel in any men's league locker room.)

Anyway, I bring this up because of a blog post on SFGate.com that points to an original review of "Caddyshack" by critic Judy Stone in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1980 (below).

In short, Stone hated "Caddyshack." The review endeavors to outline all the principal characters, and the movie's biggest purported jokes -- with the intended effect of showing how unfunny they really are.

To wit: "There is also a joke about a minister struck by lightning who thinks God is dead."

Seen through this sterile prism, you can see how "Caddyshack" could have fallen flat. And in truth, it did to more than just Stone. Roger Ebert gave "Caddyshack" 2 1/2 stars and said, "'Caddyshack' never finds a consistent comic note of its own" and that its stars "hardly seem to be occupying the same movie." The New York Times, while generally more flattering, characterized it as little more than a glorified made-for-TV movie. 

Related; Behind the making of "Caddyshack"

Read those reviews now and there's not a lot that's off base. But what they all failed to recognize is the staying power "Caddyshack" would have by tapping into many golf stereotypes that persist today -- from the stick-in-the-mud club elder to the entitled brat to the crass nouveau riche.

I don't think you have to play a lot of golf to appreciate the movie. But it's hard to find a hardcore golfer who doesn't. It's a movie not just ahead of its time, but also needing time to be appreciated.

Like golf itself, the more you're around it, the more it grows on you.

Follow @SamWeinman

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