Friday, June 21, 2019

1980 Was a Good Year for Comedies...and you can quote me on that

Airplane! and Caddyshack (1980)
For a certain demographic of guys who like to quote movies, 1980 was a golden year. It was the year two classic comedies, Caddyshack and Airplane!, were released.

“Surely you can’t be serious.” 
“I am serious...and don’t call me Shirley.”

“Cinderella story! Outta nowhere! A former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion! It looks like a miracle… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

“Whoa, did someone step on a duck?”

“Alright, give me Hamm on five, hold the Mayo.”

“Thank you very little.”

Some guys that won’t stop quoting these films, to the distress of most around them. (I hereby apologize to those around me.) Both films also are packed with sight gags and jokes that offended a wide spectrum of folks when the movies were first released (and they can offend even more now). 

Neither movie is very sensitive about religious sensitivities -- which is why both find a place here at Movie Churches. Though neither film has a church, both have clergy.

Airplane! has a nun, Sister Angelina (Maureen McGovern). We see her sitting on the plane, calmly reading Boy’s Life magazine. A few rows away, we see a young boy reading Nun’s Life. The nun has brought along a guitar (don’t know how it fit the carryon size limitations). One of the stewardesses (they weren't called flight attendants in 1980) borrows the nun's guitar to sing a song for a sick girl on the plane, to the delight of everyone except the sick girl.

Since Airplane! is a spoof of disaster films, trouble is sure to come. The film’s creators, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, mostly stole the plot from a 1957 film called Zero Hour! In that film, the crew of an airliner gets food poisoning from bad fish in the dinner service. A stewardess must fly the plane, and is later aided by a grief-stricken passenger, a former pilot. The two films even use almost the same name for the former pilot; Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) of Zero Hour! became Ted Strider (Robert Hayes) in Airplane!.

As the passengers in Airplane! panic when they realize their danger, the nun tries to bring comfort in some unorthodox ways. When one woman gets hysterical, a doctor (Leslie Neilson) tries to calm her, and then slaps her to shock her out of her hysteria. The nun takes over when the doctor is called to another passenger, and she shakes and slaps the woman. A line forms to take over for the nun, and the group carries increasingly lethal weaponry.

The film has other religious figures. A saint statue in the dashboard of the jetliner raises an umbrella during the storm. At the airport, hordes of religious solicitors (no longer allowed by security in this post 9/11 world) hand out flowers. Groups represented include the Church of Religious Consciousness, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, Scientologists, Buddhists, among many others, including Jews for Jesus --  one of the few theologically sound groups represented (in my opinion). In a very funny scene, these religious representatives are slugged one after another by Captain Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) as he tries to make his way through the airport to the airport tower.

Caddyshack has only one member of the clergy, and he's quite a sad figure. “The Bishop” Pickering (Henry Wilcoxon) is from an unspecified denomination, but it's probably Episcopal. We first see him in the locker room of the golf club. A judge (Ted Knight) asks him, “Did you hear the one about the Jew, the Catholic, and the colored boy that went to heaven?” 

The Bishop laughs, “Ya, that’s a doozie, Judge”. I just hope it’s not a joke he used as a sermon illustration.

Bishop Pickering talks about getting his greatest satisfaction working with young men at the “Youtheran Center.” When a young caddy, Danny (Michael O’Keefe), says he’d like to visit the place, he also mentions he’s thought of becoming a priest. The Bishop lets Danny know Catholics are not welcome.

The Bishop has his big moment in the film when a storm approaches. He asks the assistant groundskeeper, Carl (Bill Murray), to take him out to “try to squeeze in nine holes before the rain starts.” As rain pours down, lightning and thunder build, and the music from The Ten Commandments swells. The Bishop is playing his personal best game of golf, and Carl encourages him, “Good shot, Bishop, you must have made a deal with the devil.”

The Bishop doesn’t want to stop playing. “I could break the club record! I’m infallible!” Carl suggests, with the lightning and all, that perhaps they should to a break. The Bishop refuses. “The Good Lord would never disrupt the best game of my life!” But the round doesn’t end well. After missing a last, crucial putt, the Bishop is struck by lightning.

We next see the Bishop at the clubhouse, drinking with the judge and friends. “Another drink, Bishop?”

The Bishop answers, “Never ask a Navy man if he’ll have another drink because it’s nobody’s G** D*** business!”

The Judge tells him, “Wrong! You’re drinking too much Your Excellency!”

The Bishop answers, “Excellency? Fiddlesticks. My name’s Fred. I’m just a man, same as you, Judge.”

The Judge responds, “You’re a bishop, for God’s sake!”

Not long after that the Bishop says, “There is no God!”

But somehow, the drunk, doubting Bishop seems a little more Godly than the man we saw earlier laughing at cruel jokes and enjoying the trappings of power and privilege.

There is certainly something to be said for fearlessness in comedy, and both these films mock people in positions of authority -- even religious authority -- and I think that’s a good thing. But sadly, that means the clergy in both films earn a lowly rating of Two Steeples.

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