Even if you never heard of Harold Ramis, you certainly would know his movies. Writer, director, actor, Ramis was one of the architects of the modern day comedy. You know his films, “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day” and so many more. I first remember seeing his name way back in 1978 when I went to see “Animal House” at the Loew’s New York Twin (now The Beekman Twin) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I always paid attention to the credits in movies; who directed, who wrote the screenplay, who was the DP. I was taught by Professor Richard Brown of the New School whose adult education classes I attended that you should stay for the end credits. It showed respect and you learned who the artists were behind the work. Granted, these were the days before end credits ran for ten minutes listing everyone and I mean everyone who had anything to do with the film including the guys who cleaned up the bathrooms.
On screen, Ramis was always an unassuming geeky looking second or third to Bill Murray or Dan Ackroyd. And as Jason Zinoman writes in his New York Times appraisal, “It’s no accident that John Belushi and Mr. Murray, the greatest comedians to emerge from “Saturday Night Live,” did their funniest films with Mr. Ramis…” At its best. Ramis’ work was revolutionary, funny and satirical.
Ramis’ films were filled with loose, anarchistic, sexy, juvenile, revolution for the hell of it type humor that fit the times (1970’s). It changed comedy, and not just on the big screen, seemingly forever. His career, at its best, opened the doors for excellent comedies like “Anchorman” and “The Forty Year Old Virgin” and at its worst led to trashy, tasteless stuff like “The Last American Virgin” and the “Porky” series.
Ramis’s films reflected a healthy disrespect for the establishment whether it be the military (Stripes), science (Ghostbusters) or golf (Caddyshack). In “Stripes,” the Army recruiter asks Bill Murray and Ramis, “are either of you homosexuals?” and Ramis, as Russell Ziskey, responds, “No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn.” In “Caddyshack,” directed and co-written by Ramis, he brought together the old, Rodney Dangerfield, who was experiencing a resurgence in his career and the new, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, alumni of a relatively still new and fresh SNL. “Caddyshack” captured the irrelevance, free-spirited and anti-establishment attitude of the youth generation. While Chevy Chase got top billing, it was Bill Murray’s goofball groundskeeper, Carl Spackler, who steals the film. One of my favorite films, directed by Ramis, is “The Ice Harvest,” a dark, noirish black comedy set on Christmas Eve (think “Fargo”). The film is filled with lust, larceny and dark laughs. And this little tribute could not be complete without mentioning, “Groundhog Day,” which I am condemned to repeat. “Groundhog Day,” “Groundhog Day,” “Groundhog Day,” “Groundhog Day.”
Thanks Harold Ramis, for the joy, the laughs and the attitude that your films have given to the world.