It is a scientific fact that Caddyshack is the best movie of the 1980’s. Not only does the movie accurately depict the summer of my junior year in college spent as a ranger on a golf course, it also showcases some of the best comedic talent of the era. Chevy Chase as Ty Webb, a simple-minded millionaire playboy with a natural gift for golf. Bill Murray as Carl Spackler, a dim-witted groundskeeper who engages in an ever-escalating war with a gopher that’s burrowing holes throughout the course. And Rodney Dangerfield as Al Czervick, a boorish millionaire whose gaudy lifestyle and off-color remarks draws the ire of the club’s blue-blood establishment, as best personified by Ted Knight’s character, Judge Smails.
Throughout the movie, our hero, caddy Danny Noonan (whose last name will forever be remembered by golfers who have heard it whispered to them mid-stroke as they putted) tries to impress the stodgy Judge Smails in order to win a caddy scholarship while also trying not to betray his true self. It is a coming-of-age morality tale interwoven between campy sexual references (“Hey everybody, we’re all getting laid tonight!”), silly, but effective, turn-of-phrases (“Thank you very little”), drug references (“Cannonball!”), and pure Bill Murray (“So I got that going for me. Which is nice”). But, the movie also highlights a clash between the nouveau riche, as embodied by Dangerfield’s character, and the established upper class, as embodied by Judge Smails. A conflict that is being played out in our national politics.
Dangerfield’s character is rude and uncouth, much like our orange-tinted president whose tastes defy gaudy and uncultured, along with his public persona being impolite and offensive. But, at the same time, the caddies and other staff on the golf course don’t seem to detest Dangerfield’s character nearly as much as they do Judge Smails. His gruff remarks convey a degree of honesty. Though he is no less a liar than Judge Smails, his lies are so clearly transparent that no one feels deceived. And his unwillingness to be polite hides no ulterior motives. Everyone knows what Dangerfield’s character thinks because he declares it for everyone to hear, much like our president via Twitter.
In contrast to Dangerfield’s character, Judge Smails is presented as part of a self-important and corrupt establishment that cares little about people not of their class. Much like the public views the president’s enemies as dismissive of those beneath them. Smails is well polished and presents himself as someone who upholds the rules of respectable society, but in actuality, everyone knows he cheats. In much the same way that the American public at large believes that their betters are liars and cheats.
At the movie’s climax, the protagonist, Danny Noonan, is presented with an option: either help Dangerfield win a golf bet against Judge Smails and lose his college scholarship or fall in line with an established order that he detests for his own personal gain. Judge Smails advises him against helping Dangerfield, but Noonan ignores his advice, much like voters in 2016 rebuked the advice of the ruling class.
In the final scenes of the movie, the two sides of the golf bet are even. Noonan needs to sink his final putt in order for Dangerfield to win the bet. After a comically long moment of anticipation, Noonan’s putt wins the golf bet for Dangerfield and the workers at the golf course are ecstatic. Everyone from Noonan’s love interest to a fellow caddy who he has sparred with throughout the film crowd around him in a raucous celebration. The victory is actually Dangerfield’s, who was the principle of the bet against Judge Smails, but he is seemingly ignored. Dangerfield, much like our President, served as only the vehicle for these workers to register their frustrations with the golf course’s blue-blood establishment. The workers gained nothing from Judge Smails losing his bet: Noonan will not be able to afford college without the caddy scholarship that he’s forsaken and the rest of them will go back to the same jobs the next day. Their celebration is surely fleeting, but for a moment they take enjoyment in besting their betters.