“When we watched his movies … we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings.”—Barack Obama
“Don’t cross the streams!”
The world lost a Ghostbuster yesterday, and more importantly one of the most pivotal figures in comedy for the past 35 years. Harold Ramis was one of the most important components to so many superb comedies it was hard to classify him as being great at just one job. He was a writer, director and actor and excelled in all three of those roles as seamlessly as anyone in motion pictures. Talking or writing about his influence on comedic films is really a Herculean task that few writers could do any justice. Nevertheless, I feel that since we have lost a legend, I am obligated to illustrate the tremendous amount of respect I have for Harold Ramis. I remember putting on a beige Ghostbusters jumpsuit and proton-pack in my pre-school years and playing his character with friends of mine. He like Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray made an impact on my childhood years and as I got older the charm of seeing his films was always a pleasant one whether it was Ramis the screenwriter (Animal House), the auteur (Groundhog Day), or the actor (Knocked Up).
Most of these tributes I have read start off by mentioning Harold Ramis co-wrote the smash hit National Lampoon’s Animal House. There is no denying that was the film that launched his career in motion pictures, not to mention that it is one of the funniest and most influential comedies of all time. But I am going to go back one year before Animal House hit cinemas and mention a film Ramis acted in for only one scene, and would go on to win the Academy Award for best picture. Harold Ramis first exposure to mainstream American moviegoers was playing an actor auditioning for the lead in Alvy Singer’s autobiographical play in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
“You only Read “Death in Venice” because I gave it to you!” I could not find the scene online, but here is Ramis discussing the brilliance of Annie Hall.
After that, National Lampoon’s Animal House became a huge hit and that gave Ramis the opportunity to make his directorial debut with Caddyshack in 1980. I do not need to explain how incredibly huge Caddyshack was, and is still as popular and relevant now as it was back when it first premiered in theaters. I’ll let Ramis explain in his own words why Caddyshack is so beloved by audiences for almost thirty-five years and counting. “You scratched my anchor!”
A theme would begin to develop with Harold Ramis’ comedy as a writer, director and actor. A universal theme of comedies on screen that dates back to Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers hijinks of the upper class, stuffed shirts and poor Margaret Dumont. The slobs versus the snobs comedy would be what best defines Harold Ramis’ career. Both Animal House and Caddyshack were about working class people sticking it to the entitled and elitists of society, one did it at college and the other at a golf course.
In between those two mega-hits Ramis would write the Ivan Reitman film Meatballs starring Bill Murray, which was another story about underdog loser kids at a camp taking on the bigger, tougher, cooler elitist kids. It’s a great comedy about going to summer camp, growing up and features one of the best motivational speeches of all time thanks to the writing of Harold Ramis and the performance of Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter!”
A year after Caddyshack, Ramis would write and star in the hilarious military farce Stripes alongside Bill Murray. Ivan Reitman would return to the director’s chair once again and they would deliver the laughs when expected.
Murray, Ramis and Reitman would also reunite on what would be the biggest and possibly funniest hit of their careers with 1984’s Ghostbusters. I cannot contribute much new insight about about this monumental comedy, other than add my own personal memories. I watched the VHS tape over and over as a child, had all the toys, loved the cartoons, the clothes, the ghost trap, proton pack, color forms, the slime, Ecto-1 the Ghostbusters car and of course the Hi-C Ecto Cooler juice boxes. The movie was an important part of my childhood and that love has carried over into adulthood. It is still one of my favorite comedies and is as quotable to me as anything Ramis was involved in. I did not realize until I was older that it was a loving update of the classic Marx Brothers films. Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman was the wry Groucho, Dan Aykroyd was the fast talking Chico Marx, Ramis was the quieter Harpo equipped with gadgets, Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddmore was the straight man just as Zeppo Marx was and Sigourney Weaver was Margaret Dumont, the woman on the outside that had everything bad happen to her, then called on the Ghost busters which made her situation funnier and worse at the same time, until it was all resolved at the end with a huge climax.
Murray and Ramis would have a very fruitful partnership in film which would culminate with 1993’s Groundhog Day, which was just registered last year in the Library of Congress as one of the most important American films ever made. It is truly an indisputable masterpiece. Probably the best film Ramis ever directed and arguably the best performance of Bill Murray’s career.
There are so many other films in Harold Ramis’ career this article would be as long as Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” if I were to detail them all. I did not even mention his return to college with the screenplay for Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy Back to School, another slobs vs. snobs comedy and irrefutably Rodney’s best motion picture, nor did I mention his sophomore directorial effort National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase which launched the Griswold family into American pop culture as one of the funniest families and inspired several sequels. The 1999 film Analyze This Ramis directed Robert DeNiro (in his greatest comedic performance) as a mob boss with some emotional issues along side Billy Crystal as his unwilling therapist, was Harold Ramis’ last great film. The fact that I mention Analyze This as just an afterthought illustrates how underrated Harold Ramis was in the world of comedic cinema. To get the full representation of how important Ramis was to both film and comedy I beg you to read http://www.avclub.com/article/a-beginners-guide-to-comedy-legend-harold-ramis-94039
Harold Ramis truly is a comedy legend. So many of his work has become ingrained as elements of our pop culture consciousness. His influence was far reaching and he will be greatly missed. Watch the video tribute below.