I had been working on a post taking a ‘wackier’ approach to the capture of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán when I heard about the death of comedy genius Harold Ramis. In my state of sadness and shock, I must still admit he exited the stage with his usual excellent timing, as I could easily see him in his SCTV pomp coming up with the humorous mash-ups that (most-likely) inadvertently happened in the VOD film I was studying, Ron Ormond’s Mesa of Lost Women (1953).
So I decided instead to share 7 essential moments from Ramis’ acting, writing and directing career:
- SCTV (1976-1979): Ramis was the head writer as well as a performer in the troupe as the show established itself as the biggest comedy hit in Canada. It’s in the clips from these shows that you can see that while much of his talent lay in setting up his more flamboyant comrades such as John Candy, Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas, he was perfectly willing to own the outrageousness himself. Characters such as “Officer Friendly,” “Mort Finkel, Do-It-Yourself Dentist,” “Curtis Edgit, Plainclothes Mountie” and “Swami Bananananda” are subversive yet timeless. The young Ramis even resembles the American Hustl-er Christian Bale as he confidently takes on the Groucho torch.
- Animal House (1978): Peter Riegert served as co-scriptwriter Ramis’ surrogate Boon (director John Landis felt Ramis looked too old), a semi-calm presence in the eye of the frat storm. The events of this classic would define what was considered a ‘good party’ for college and high school kids for many years to come, much to parents’ and other clean-up staff’s chagrin. The film also featured the first of Ramis’ ‘comic rousing’ speeches, the “Was it over…” speech delivered by John Belushi’s Bluto.
- Meatballs (1979): Bill Murray’s first starring role (Murray had previously also been considered for Boon) was co-scripted by Ramis, and the two friends made their first movie magic. This Canadian film that was a US hit features the “It Just Doesn’t Matter” chant led by Murray.
- Caddyshack (1980): Ramis wrote and directed for the first time. A simple direction to Murray resulted in the “Cinderella Story” monologue. Ramis’ classic comedy sensibilities brought a star-making performance out of Rodney Dangerfield. Chevy Chase and Murray have their only scene together on the silver screen (is it any wonder pot played a role?). For me, the Reverend’s round in the rain and thunder topped them all.
- Stripes (1981): Ramis scripted for Ivan Reitman’s direction and plays the devilish sidekick Russell Ziskey stoking the on-fire Murray in a film of gut-busting highlights. The graduation drill sequence drew unanimous, chuckling approval from Siskel & Ebert at the height of their Sneak Previews fame. In Ziskey’s introduction, Ramis leads an ESL class in a rendition of “Da Doo Run Run.”
- Ghostbusters (1984): With Reitman in supernova mode, Ramis grounded the script with Dan Ackroyd in a Martha’s Vineyard Bomb Shelter, and acted alongside Ackroyd, Murray (replacing the late Belushi) and Ernie Hudson (replacing Eddie Murphy) as Dr. Egon Spengler. Again he (and Ackroyd) goad Murray into a comic surfing performance for the ages, topped by the “He’s coming…” rant.
- Groundhog Day (1993): Ramis directed and co-scripted, the film is his refined apex of everything he always wanted to achieve comedically: finely cutting subversive satire seamlessly blended with Marx Bros./3 Stooges slapstick and improvisation. The template for our time.
Watch College Humor to see a variety of comedians and performers who were inspired and influenced by Ramis, on FilmOn: