Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Caddyshack

Book Review: 'Caddyshack', by Chris Nashawaty

5 / 5 Stars

‘Caddyshack (The Making of a Hollywood Success Story)' was published in April, 2018 by Flatiron Books. It’s a small, 294 pp volume featuring an insert section of photographs of the film’s producers and cast.

When Caddyshack came out in late July 2018, I didn’t rush out to see it. The title song, 'I’m Alright’, had been released earlier in the month, and was getting steady airplay on FM radio, so I had some idea it was forthcoming. 

But there were a lot of movies being released that Summer: The Empire Strikes Back was still pulling in audiences, and a low-budget film titled Airplane, released at the beginning of July, was turning out to be the comedy film of the season. If any newly released film had a buzz, it was not Caddyshack, but rather Brian DePalma’s ‘explicit’ thriller Dressed to Kill, about a housewife who pays the price for seeking a one-night-stand. 

Special effects team filming the animatronic gopher used in Caddyshack

In July of 1980 Caddyshack struck me as yet another low-impact Bill Murray comedy (like Meatballs the previous year), or worse yet, another bloated, self-indulgent movie designed to showcase over-rated Saturday Night Live cast members, like The Blues Brothers, which had come out just the previous month.

Needless to say, I had no idea that Caddyshack would, within a few short years, come to be regarded as one the most iconic and influential comedies in the history of American film.

Author Chris Nashawaty is the ultimate Caddyshack fanboy and his book is a celebration of how the film came to be, how it was shot (often chaotically) at a Florida golf club in the Fall of 1979, and how it got a disappointing reception upon its release.

Nashawaty starts his story in 1966, and ends it in September 1980, with the untimely passing of a major figure in the making of the movie. The book is thus not just a recounting of the making of the movie, but an examination of the rise of the new generation of comedies and comedians in American pop culture during the 1970s. It’s the story of The National Lampoon, Animal House, and Saturday Night Live, all of which made possible the making of Caddyshack

L to R: Doug Kenney, James Rivaldo, and Henry Beard of the Harvard Lampoon, 1968. Kenney would go on to produce Caddyshack

Nashawaty takes care to cram his narrative with all manner of insider tales and anecdotes, and by so doing, stays consistently entertaining (as Nashwaty makes clear, it’s a minor miracle that Caddyshack turned out to be a watchable movie, given the improvisational, haphazard nature of the script, and the heavy drug use by both cast and crew). I won’t disclose any spoilers, but I will say that there are plenty of tales that will give the film some added shine when next you view it.

‘Caddyshack (The Making of a Hollywood Success Story)' is very much aimed at a Baby Boomer readership. If you are over the age of 50 then this book will certainly trigger nostalgia; it’s little less clear whether those under 40 will find it as engaging.

I am not a super fan of the movie, but I do treasure the stoner culture of the 70s and early 80s, and for me, this book was well worth picking up. Recommended !

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