Caddyshack poster

"Caddyshack" was released in July 1980.

Want to feel old?

“Caddyshack” is turning 40.

That’s right. Arguably the most-quoted movie in cinematic history – the “Citizen Kane” of the dimpled ball set, “The Godfather” but with caddies – is now a middle-ager. Director Harold Ramis’ followup to "Animal House," a similar snobs-versus-slobs story set at a country club instead of a frat house, was released in July 1980, and if it was well over par at the box office – it was only the 17th highest grossing film that year – it remains a hit among golfers.

“Caddyshack” is supposedly Tiger Woods’ favorite movie, and no less a film critic than Stuart Appleby has called it “the greatest film of the 20th century.”

Sorry, Rosebud. But the movie is undeniably as much a part of golf as a duck hook. As David Feherty said, “Every sick bastard I know can recite at least half the ‘Caddyshack’ script. Then there are some people who quote from it and don’t even know what they’re quoting from.”

He’s got that right. The language of golf today is the language of the movie, from such enduring Caddyshackisms as “be the ball” and “boy, he got all of that” to “miss it, Noonan, miss.” There are dozens of websites devoted to “Caddyshack” quotes – the 10 best, the 15 you’re always repeating, the 33 “Caddyshack” quotes that will make you laugh, even 100 that “are incredibly inspiring.”

As one newspaper noted on the movie’s 30th anniversary, “Caddyshack didn’t win any Oscars. But who’s quoting from 'Ordinary People' these days.”

No one, because "Ordinary People" wasn’t nearly as memorable, as I was reminded one recent rainy day – the heavy stuff wasn’t going to come down for quite a while – when I watched it again. It was as rude and crude as I remembered, and just as funny.

According to the movie’s biographer it almost became a very different film. In his book “Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story,” Chris Nashawaty wrote that after his success with “Animal House,” Ramis initially considered doing a comedy about Nazis marching in Skokie, a concept that might have ended comedy forever. Instead, Ramis and fellow writers Brian Doyle Murray – Bill’s brother – and National Lampoon’s Doug Kenney came up with a country club comedy and persuaded a Florida golf club to let them make it at their course. There was concern about a scene that called for blowing up part of the golf course but the filmmakers assured them it would be changed.

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The writers first considered Don Rickles for the role of the insufferable interloper Al Czervik but changed course after watching Rodney Dangerfield bring Johnny Carson to tears with his hangdog humor. Nashawaty said when Dangerfield arrived on set in an aqua-blue leisure suit and snorted two lines of cocaine off the table they knew they had found their man.

As Ramis put it, “It was a pretty debauched country at the time ... and everyone was doing everything.”

Not everybody, though. Ted Knight had no use for drugs and seethed daily that everyone else did. But Cindy Morgan, who played the luscious Lacey Underall, recalled the morning after Bill Murray arrived he knocked on her door in the dorm where the cast was staying and took her away from it all. They awoke hours later on a nude beach in Jupiter, Florida. Years later her memoir was titled “From Catholic School to Caddyshack.”

Not surprisingly, then, when shooting wrapped the movie was a hot mess. There were great bits by Murray, who improvised most of his lines, Dangerfield, Knight and Chevy Chase, but nothing held the story together until an emergency film editor was brought in to salvage it. It was only then that the gopher’s small cameo was expanded and the movie was saved. It might have opened to a harsh review or 10 (the Boston Globe said it “presupposes an audience with the collective intelligence of a lobotomized ape…”) but as Nashawaty said, it also “is quoted by everyone from golfers to U.S. presidents.”

So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

As for the explosion on the golf course, it wasn’t cut after all. Nashawaty said directors of the golf course were taken out for a boat ride the day of the filming so they couldn’t stop it. An incoming pilot who spotted the fireball called the Fort Lauderdale airport to report a plane crash; it wasn’t that at all. It was only the perfect ending for a Cinderella story.

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