(Second Viewing, In French, On TV, August 2019) “Rodney Dangerfield goofing off” seems to be the plot summary of most of Dangerfield’s movies, and the same holds true for Back to School. As the title suggests, this is Dangerfield heading back to academia to deliver his usual takedown of authority, pompousness, and higher education. As a (very) rich entrepreneur who goes back to college in order to foster his bonds with his son, Dangerfield gets the chance to oppose his brand of rough common good sense against the stuffy professors. Slobs versus snobs again, with expected results … including romancing a younger professor (only 16 years’ difference between Dangerfield and Sally Kellerman—could have been worse), getting in fights with pompous enemies and partying with the coeds. I saw the film a long time ago and only remembered two scenes (the protagonist bringing some real-world knowledge in an economics class, and the final diving sequence), so much of it was relatively fresh to me. Adrienne Barbeau has a small but appreciated role as a philandering trophy wife. Still, much of the film actually works well. Dangerfield, playing a rich guy, doesn’t get to overindulge in his “I get no respect” shtick, and his motivations approach nobility at times. As a result, his character feels more sympathetic and so does Back to School given how closely it depends on him.
(On Cable TV, May 2019) I have a growing suspicion that Rodney Dangerfield is best used as a supporting character (à la Caddyshack) than a leading man, and here comes Easy Money to reinforce my theory. It doesn’t take a lot of Dangerfield in this film to get tired of his blue-collar loser antics, straight-up early-eighties slobs-versus-snobs cheap comedy. The premise is simple enough to make you wonder why it hasn’t been re-used elsewhere: a man is promised a significant inheritance if he can just shape up for a year. Of course, that’s really a clothesline to hang a series of gags about an ordinary guy trying to control his ordinary-guy urges. It doesn’t always work but the film does hand him a victory at the end. (Dangerfield being Dangerfield, there’s no suspense as to where the coin will fall; plus he looks the same at the beginning of the year-long improvement plan than at the end.) The result is not exactly bad, but sometimes Dangerfield gets to be a bit too much, and Easy Money would be better with less of him in it—a curious thing to say about a star vehicle, but then again there are stars for whom the movie works in spite of them.
(On DVD, May 2017) As a quintessential golf comedy, Caddyshack’s reputation precedes it in many ways. A favourite filler on golf TV channels, it seems to enjoy a consecrated reputation as something of a lowbrow classic. Taking a good look at it, however, may reveal a film weaker than expected. The plot zigs and zags in mystifying fashion, largely uninterested in the action of its putative teenage leads but all too eager to showcase comic routines by Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. It makes for a clash of comic sensibilities, considering how their styles don’t necessarily belong in the same narrative. The most egregious instance of this is Dangerfield’s quasi-stand-up routine blasting the age and status of a country club members—the movie pretty much stops dead during that time. Another physical comedy bit involves nautical hijinks, while Chevy Chase has his own comic-seduction routine, and Bill Murray kind of dawdles into the movie with his own absurdist take (He’s got that going for him, which is nice) and a groundhog exists in a separate explosive movie. Very little of this actually fits together, making for a disconnected but occasionally very funny film. Caddyshack’s impact makes more sense once you find out the chaotic nature of its production and the various ways then-novice director Harold Ramis altered the film is post-production. The result is a mess, but an entertaining one—if only for seeing Chase, Dangerfield and Murray each playing up their comic persona, leaving the other aspects of the film far behind.