A Few Thoughts on Harold Ramis

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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.

StripesOn 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.

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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.

19 comments on “A Few Thoughts on Harold Ramis

  1. Am I the only one who thinks “Meatballs” is criminally underrated? Probably.

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  2. le0pard13 says:

    Fine tribute, John. To hear, too, another appreciation for the underrated The Ice Harvest.

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  3. John, we’re all sad that Harold Ramis is no longer with us, but your wonderful salute to him brought back so many happy memories of our favorite films, from CADDYSHACK to STRIPES to GROUNDHOG DAY, and so much more, including the wonderfully wicked THE ICE HARVEST — I’m delighted that I’m not the only one who loves it as I do! At least Ramis’ films will never die, thank goodness!

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  4. I’m not a fan of all of Ramis’ films but the ones I like, I love.

    I agree with Dorian (above), you’ve presented us with a wonderful tribute to a very talented man.

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  5. Sam Juliano says:

    Wonderful tribute to Ramis, John, and some lovely personalized anecdotes of your NYC movie going reflections. Ah, the Beekman. Many memories from that building. Yes, Ramis was always in that sidekick role, but he made a lasting impression. This coming weekend they will showing GROUNDHOG DAY at the Jersey City Loews in memory of him.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Sam! GROUNDHOG DAY I thought reflect a bit of maturity in his work. A wonderful film which I will probably take a look soon.

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  6. The Lady Eve says:

    You honor Harold Ramis with a very fine tribute, John. While I’m not a fan of everything he did (or of very much of what it inspired from more recent generations of filmmakers), I love most of his classics: “Animal House,” “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.” To be honest, I didn’t realize “The Ice Harvest” was his movie. By the way, would love to hear more about your classes with Richard Brown.

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  7. Rick says:

    His masterpiece is GROUNDHOG DAY (I loved your repeating). It’s a film that has improved with age and one of those movies I feel compelled to finish if I join it in progress while surfing channels.

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    • John Greco says:

      I agree with you Rick, though I would put THE ICE HARVEST near the top also. I thought GROUNDHOG DAY reflected a real maturity in his work.

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      • John Greco says:

        Eve,

        I don’t know if you like FARGO, but if you did, and you have not seen THE ICE HARVEST, it’s a must. Can’t say I like everything he did but there is enough that, for better or worse, shows the Ramis had a significant effect on the comedy of today.

        As for Professor Richard Brown’s classes at the New School, it was an adult education night course that was a lot of fun and a learning experience. Brown taught us how to ‘read’ a film and not just watch. You became more sensitive to camera angles, editing, lighting and what the filmmaker was saying. There were guests from the film industry just about every week who discussed their work. Folks like film editor, Jerry Greenberg, who recently worked on “The French Connection,” and discussed the famous elevated train chase scene. There was George Barrie, a producer, actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Lee Grant and Kirk Douglas among others. On Saturday mornings we had a private screening of a film that was yet to be released and would be discussed at the following week night class. Sometimes the guest that evening was related to the film. One of the more interesting was for a film called, “I Will, I Will for Now” which starred Diane Keaton and Elliott Gould. It was a horribly unfunny film. The class tore into it and many of us caught a goof. Unknown to us, the guess that night was the producer, George Barrie! There is a scene in the film which I believe took place in two motel rooms, or maybe it was two apartments, not sure (it’s been a long time). The point is that on the front door were room numbers to distinguish the different apartments which the characters were running back and forth. The first apartment had a ladder in it, which magically appeared in the second apartment, and then it was back in the first apartment. One person in the audience asked Barrie about the ladder and he admitted it was a goof. They used the same set for both rooms only changing the number on the door. However, when the switched numbers on the door, no one remembered to remove the ladder when it was supposed to be the second apartment. On another week, we even a porn star as a guest, and the movie that week was a porno whose title I no longer remember. I do remember they wanted to called it “Sex Wish” because the storyline was a take-off on “Death Wish,” which had been released a year or so earlier, but apparently another sex film already took that title. Brown did warn audiences the movie for the upcoming weekend was pornographic so folks would not be blind-sided and could make a decision whether to attend the showing or not. He selected this particular film because it had a sense of humor and a story which most porn films did not see as important. Still, the film was not good. More interesting was the audience’s reaction the following week night when the porn star and the director were the guests in class. The guest of the evening always sat somewhere among the audience. In this case after they were introduced, stood up and walked to the stage there were lots of murmurs, shocks, surprised looks, disbelief and stares and not the kind Kirk Douglas received the night he appeared.
        I have been trying to think of other films we saw but other than the ones I mentioned and one other, Richard Lester’s “Robin and Marian” with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, I am drawing a blank. “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” is another possible one I saw in this class but I am not positive about it.

        Last I read, he was still doing these sort of classes at NYU.

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  8. ClassicBecky says:

    Good one, John! I love Harold Ramis and his brand of humor. I’m always up for irreverence done with intelligence! I read that Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, friends for so long, had a falling out years ago. When Bill Murray commented on Ramis’ passing, he said “He really earned his keep on this earth.” Sounds a bit reserved and a bit cold from a former good friend, doesn’t it? I’d be interested to know what was behind their parting.

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    • John Greco says:

      Hi Becky, I was unaware they had a falling out. That’s too bad, because Murray’s on screen persona fit so well with Ramis. You hit it on the head when when you say, “irreverence done with intelligence.” Sadly, too many of those who came afterward lacked the second part of that statement.

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