Poster for Caddyshack
Poster for “Caddyshack”

Thanks to Michael Kurinsky for this breakdown. After many years at Walt Disney Feature Animation, Michael joined Sony Pictures Animation in 2004 and served as a Visual Development Artist on the 2006 release, Open Season. Michael art directed Sony’s 2009 release, Cloudy with a Chance Of Meatballs, and attended a Beat Sheet Workshop led by Jose Silerio in May of last year. He has several writing projects in development. 

In my pursuit to learn everything there is about writing great movies, I decided to try my hand at beating out a true classic. The big question was… which movie to choose? There have been so many amazing movies made. It would have to be one worthy of my first beat sheet. The kind of film that helped to define and shape its genre, with a screenplay so rich in dialogue that people would continue to quote it for decades after its release….Oh, and it should have some kind of cute and fuzzy animal in it. I could see only one film that met these strict criteria… Caddyshack.

Year of Release: 1980

Written by: Brian Doyle-Murray and Harold Ramis

Directed by: Harold Ramis

Genre: Rite of Passage

Opening Image: Beauty shots of a pristine golf course that is rapidly getting torn up by some tunneling intruder. The intruder is revealed as a puppety-looking version of a gopher that narrowly misses getting hit by the film’s title card flying in, signaling that we are in for a fun ride.

The shots of the serene country club are sharply contrasted by the morning chaos happening in the Noonan household. The rundown house is packed to the gills with about a dozen screaming children (“Mom! Danny saw me naked!”) — the oldest of which, our hero Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), is receiving his daily berating from his parents on what decisions he’s made about college, and how he plans on paying for it. Without any definitive answers to give them, he leaves the house to the sound of his father’s voice shouting, “Well he isn’t going to be a caddy all his life, is he?” On his bike ride to work, Danny literally crosses over from the wrong side of the tracks to the other side, which is filled with mansions, expensive cars, and of course, Bushwood Country Club.

Theme Stated: Danny is caddying this morning for Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), the young eccentric playboy and son of one of Bushwood’s founders. Danny confides to Ty his frustrations about his future. In his own way, Ty expresses the theme of the movie in the form of some advice. No, not “Do you take drugs, Danny?” but telling him that he needs to “be the ball” and make his own future.

Danny must "be the ball" and go for the green
Danny must “be the ball” and go for the green.

Set-Up: Caddyshack is a movie with an ensemble cast. Each character has his or her own subplot to follow, which means many set-ups. The first is where we meet Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight), the other co-founder of Bushwood, who is always fighting for the integrity of the club by trying to keep the riff-raff out. At the moment, that riff-raff comes in the form of a gopher. Knowing what a gopher can do to a golf course, Judge Smails orders the head greenskeeper, Sandy McFiddish, to kill every last one of them, to which Sandy replies that he will “put his best man on it.”

Enter Carl Spackler (Bill Murray). Despite his knowledge of chinch bugs and manganese, Carl is only an assistant greenskeeper… only now, an assistant greenskeeper who has been given a license to kill gophers.

A second set-up that will escalate throughout the film also happens during the Judge’s talk with greens keeper Sandy McFiddish. When pressed about the gophers, Sandy tells the Judge that they “are tunneling in from the construction site over yonder.” A shot reveals a large sign on the site reading “Czervik Construction.” This is the company owned by Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), a nouveau-riche slob that will grow to be a big pain in Judge Smails’ side.

Catalyst: After a confrontation between Danny and his co-worker, nemesis Tony D’Annunzio, that ends with a broken gumball machine, Lou, the caddy supervisor, lays down the law on his team of caddies, saying that they will be replaced by golf carts if they keep up their bad behavior. He does have one positive announcement for them though: caddy Carl Lipbaum has died, apparently after swallowing his own vomit during a test. This means that the caddy college scholarship is once again available to the caddy that is willing to kiss Judge Smails’ ass.

Debate: So as not to embarrass himself in front of his peers, Danny pulls Lou aside to find out what exactly it would take to win the caddy scholarship. He has possibly found a way to appease his parents and get into a college, but realizes what kind of serious brownnosing he will have to do to make it happen. Danny decides that he has to try, and offers to caddy for Judge Smails.

During Judge Smails’ round of golf, Danny tries in vain to get on his good side. He goes against his true nature by letting the Judge cheat (“why don’t you improve your lie, sir”) and by stretching the truth. (“I’ve always thought of entering the priesthood.”) Neither of these ploys gets the Judge to see him any differently.

Lacey Underall
Lacey Underall

This round of golf also brings about a few more set-ups. We are introduced to Judge Smails’ niece, the beautiful Lacey Underall, who has come from “dreary old Manhattan” to Bushwood because her parents want to broaden her horizons. All she wants is to have some fun. Stay tuned.

While everyone is golfing, Carl the assistant greenskeeper tries his first attempt at ridding the course of the gopher by pumping about 15,000 gallons of water down the gopher hole. He ends up just making a bunch of geysers erupt all across the fairway.

The match also serves to escalate the animosity between Al Czervik and Judge Smails. From the moment Al enters Bushwood, the Judge is annoyed with him — from the flaunting of his wealth (“Hey, orange balls! I’ll have a box of those and give me a box of those naked-lady tees, gimme two of those, gimme six of those…”), to driving a shot into his testicles (“I should have yelled two!”) and eventually making him miss an important putt, causing the Judge to throw his putter in anger.

Break into Two: The thrown putter strikes a club member who was sitting and having lunch at Bushwood. The Judge, clearly at fault, tries to hem and haw his way out of it when Danny steps up and takes the blame. He finally has gotten the Judge’s attention. Judge Smails tells Danny that he is a good caddy and that the caddy scholarship is available again, but to seal the deal, Danny will have to win the 35th Annual Caddy Day Golf Tournament.

B Story: Usually it’s a love story that serves as the B Story, and although there is a love story between Danny and his girlfriend Maggie, which feels like a bit of an afterthought, it is the mentoring relationship of Ty Webb to Danny that better serves the “be the ball” and make your own future theme. In a scene around 38 minutes into the film, Danny expresses to Ty that he owes it to his parents to win that caddy tournament and get the scholarship. Ty makes Danny question why he really needs college with a story about his old roommate (Mitch Comestein) who ruined his life by going to college. Apparently putting at night with the 15-year-old daughter of the dean will do that. The point of the story was to tell Danny not to become obsessed with his desires.

The scene ends with Ty putting on an impressive display of his putting ability. Just curious, is there anyone out there who hasn’t played a round of golf without making Ty’s famous “ma na na na na na na na” sound? I didn’t think so. But beyond making us laugh, the scene delivers two important things. It shows us what a great golfer Ty is, an important set-up for later on, as well as reinforcing Ty as our “Obi-Wan Kenobi” character, trying to help Danny find his true path to follow with such wisdom as, “A flute with no holes is not a flute, and a donut with no holes is a Danish.” Ok, it’s no “use the force Luke,” but it will have to do.

Fun and Games: This movie is all about fun and games… ’80s style, which means plenty of drugs, booze, boobs, and crude humor. Ah, you got to love the ’80s. But all this fun and games isn’t just there for a laugh; it helps to support and move the story forward.

The "Varmint Cong"
The “Varmint Cong”

In a makeshift bunker inside a gardening shed, Carl the assistant greenskeeper is planning his second attack on the “Varmint Cong,” better known as… the gopher. His first attempt failed, so now he must pull out some superior firepower: in this case, a rifle with a flashlight duct taped to it. (“And that’s all she wrote.”)

Meanwhile, at a Fourth of July banquet we really get to know Al Czervik, who finds humor in everything (“Did somebody step on a duck?”) and everyone. (“Look at that one. Last time I saw a mouth like that it had a hook in it.”) Judge Smails and his family seem to be his biggest targets, though. (“You’re a lot of woman, you know that? Hey, you want to make fourteen dollars the hard way?”) All the jokes help to build the animosity between the Judge and Al, as well as illustrating the “snobs vs. slobs” theme.

The banquet ends with Carl failing at his second attempt to take the gopher down (“Freeze gopher!”), but not before Judge Smails’ nephew, Spaulding Smails, drunkenly throws up into a Porsches’ open sunroof. Who’s a “slob” now?

Of course what would a movie about caddies be without some golfing in it? Danny plays a “top-notch” round and ends up defeating his nemesis, Tony, in the Caddy Tournament. Judge Smails is so impressed that he invites Danny to join him at the yacht club for the christening of his new sloop, “The Flying Wasp.” (“It’s easy to grin, when your ship comes in…”) Danny takes one step closer to “the dark side” by accepting. Showing up overdressed and trying way too hard to fit in, Danny ends up acting like someone he’s not. (“Ahoy polloi. Where did you just come from… a scotch ad?”) He ends up leaving the yacht club with the Judge’s niece Lacey though, which yields a pretty good “sex at 60” scene.

The christening ends up getting completely ruined by Al Czervik, who destroys the sloop with the anchor of his enormous yacht, “The Seafood.” This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back between the Judge and Al.

I would be remiss if I didn’t put in the most memorable and fun scene of the movie. From 1:00 to 1:15 on caddy’s day, the caddies invade the private pool area. From Lacey’s impressive high dive to the Busby Berkeley water ballet, the scene is nothing but fun and games. But nothing says highbrow humor like a Baby Ruth bar being mistaken for “an accident” in the pool. (DOODIE!)

Midpoint: Wanting to see what was underneath all that fancy clothes at the yacht club, Lacey takes Danny back to her uncle’s house for some fun. Good old-fashioned ’80s movie topless fun. Not counting on the Judge’s early return, she and Danny are literally caught in the act, causing him to chase Danny around the house, smashing everything with a nine iron. (“That must be the tea.”) Danny makes it out alive, but it appears his dreams of the caddy scholarship are dead.

The Judge calls Danny into his office the next morning. He is expecting to be fired, but instead finds himself a bit more in the driver’s seat. Fearing public embarrassment, the Judge wants to keep any “loose talk” about his niece’s “zest for living” a secret. Only a “slob” would have a tramp for a niece, right? The Judge is relieved to hear that Danny didn’t tell a soul what happened. Feeling that Danny could still be “a gentleman” someday, he offers him a choice… Goodness, or badness. Danny says that he wants to be good. He is offered the caddy scholarship, but still must pass the final test. The Judge extends his hand and asks Danny if he is his pal. Looking like he is going to be sick, Danny shakes the Judge’s hand and replies, “Yes sir, I’m your pal”. He has made a deal with Bushwood equivalent of the devil. Now how about a Fresca!

Bad Guys Close In: That evening, the gauntlet has been thrown down between Judge Smails and Al Czervik after Al calls Bushwood a dump and threatens to buy it. Demanding satisfaction, Al challenges the Judge to a team golf match for the satisfying amount of $20,000. When Al picks Ty Webb as his partner, the Judge asks to speak with Ty in private. Believing that Ty is on the side of the “snobs,” Judge Smails tries to connect with him by saying, “Some people simply do not belong.” Ty lets the Judge know what side he is really on by doubling the bet to $40,000. Regardless of the amount, the match is not about money any more. It is for bragging rights for who is better, the snobs or the slobs. Although he doesn’t know it at the moment, Danny will find himself somewhere in the middle of this conflict.

Meanwhile, back in the gardening shed, the bad guys are closing in on the gopher. Carl has been twice thwarted in his attempts to take him down him, so now he is pulling out all the stops. He’s going to use the gopher’s allies, the harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit, to do his dirty work for him. This should be foolproof, as they are sculpted out of plastic explosive.

Down, but not out of the game.
Down, but not yet out of the game.

All Is Lost: The match begins the next morning. Ty instinctively goes over to Danny for his clubs, who sheepishly smiles and points to the caddy next to him. Danny will be carrying clubs for Judge Smails today. Ty looks a bit like he just got slapped in the face.

Danny has to turn a blind eye to the Judge’s cheating while Al plays the worst game of his life. Even with the ace Ty for a partner, they will need a miracle to win the back nine holes. Regardless, Al gives into the Judge’s taunting and raises the stakes to $40,000 a piece.

All the while, Carl has been wiring up his explosive animals and planting them in every open gopher hole on the course.

Dark Night of the Soul: Al injures his arm and claims he can’t play out the rest of the match. Lou, the referee, informs him that if he can’t play, his teams forfeits, thus losing the match. The only other option is allowing their team a substitute player. Since Sonja Henie isn’t available, Ty suggests Danny Noonan. The Judge makes it very clear to Danny what his fate will be if he accepts. His opportunity of the caddy scholarship will die.

Break into Three: When it comes to his life, all of Danny’s decisions were made to please other people, and he feels like a creep because of it. Danny finally makes the decision that he doesn’t want the scholarship after all, and agrees to play with Ty.

Finale: Danny plays like his life depends on it, and manages to tie the match up by the last hole. Whichever team wins this hole will win the match. The Judge’s partner, Dr. Beeper, misses his first putt, but sinks the second. The next putt is a big one for the Judge (“Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy…”), and he manages to sink it, putting them ahead.

Ty, possibly cracking a bit under the pressure or more likely setting Danny up for success, plays out the hole the same as Dr. Beeper. If Danny can sink his first putt, the best they can hope for is a tie.

That’s when Al comes up with a way the slobs can win it all with the challenge of, “Judge, double or nothing he makes it.” The Judge accepts the bet. Now it is really all up to Danny.

The Judge barks at a hesitating Danny Noonan, “Well… we’re waiting.” So is Danny. He’s been waiting for this moment when the true path of his life begins. He just has to be the ball and make his future. Dozens of members and employees from the Bushwood Country Club are gathered around in support of Danny. Even his enemy Tony tells him, “Noonan… you can do it.”

That oughtta do it.
That oughtta do it.

Danny lines up his putt and sends it straight to the cup… where it stops on the edge, millimeters from falling in. He has failed. It is at that second when Carl depresses the plunger connected to the animal explosives. The ground shakes as the entire golf course goes up in a fiery blast, causing the ball to fall into the hole.

Final Image: Everyone surrounds Danny, showering him with congratulations. Through the crowd Danny finds Ty and gives him a wave and a gesture that says, “I am the ball!” With a tip of the cap from Ty, Danny is off. The crowd follows behind him, cheering a victory that seems to benefit them all.

With a final cheer due to some inspiring words from Al (“Hey everybody! We’re all going to get laid!”), the movie closes with the gopher popping out of his hole unharmed. He coughs out a few puffs of smoke and then grooves to Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright.”

Next week: Guest Blog from Master Cat! Anne Lower