In honour of his passing… these are my TOP 5 Harold Ramis Movies.
The sheer fact that I had to just type that is bothersome to me. I love this man’s work. Sure, not everything is my cup of tea but he had a knack for making some of the finest comedies I have ever seen. In fact he and John Hughes defined my childhood with their movies. He presented characters that through their many flaws were truly the heroes of their stories, usually fighting some kind of oppressive system or institution that they were trapped in. He spoke to a generation of film fans that were rebelling against what felt like the heavy handed desire by those in power to make us conform. While not a new idea it spoke to many like myself growing up in the 70’s & 80’s. Ramis is responsible for many of Bill Murray’s best performances, regardless if Murray actually followed the scripts or not. (He is a notorious improviser on set.) His passing leaves a hole in the comedy landscape that will take a long time to fill, if ever.
Here are the rules…
- Must have been written, directed or starring Harold Ramis
- Available to the public in some form for viewing today
Sadly while there will be no further movies by Mr. Ramis hitting theatres, we still have many great film from his body of work that we can enjoy again and again. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some films that are part of this group. Here are what I think are great examples of the best of Harold Ramis.
“Listen… do you smell something?” — Dr. Ray Stantz
Simply the best comedy of the 80’s, period. All others are nice to look at and you get some funny moments but nothing beats this. Ramis also stars in this one and he shines as Dr. Egon Spengler. It’s hard to pick one scene from the many great ones in this masterpiece. “Is this true?” “Yes, this man has no dick.” Whether it’s that exchange or any of the hundreds of others, they are auditory bliss for fans like myself. I don’t go more then a few days without quoting something from Ghostbusters. It has become that much a part of my daily life. A group of friends working at Columbia University lose their funding and jobs, they get called in to investigate a paranormal occurrence and from there, they begin down a path that leads them to a climactic battle against Gozer the Gozerian…..in the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And it’s just as wacky to watch as it is to read that description.
“Well I got the shit kicked out of me in Wisconsin once. Forget it!” — Russell Ziskey
This is the movie that introduced me to Bill Murray. Honestly, what more needs to be said. Ramis gives a great supporting performance as Murray’s best friend as they decide to join the army and see the world. Well, that and steal a top secret weapon, take it for a joyride and then invade Czechoslovakia. I first saw this when I was really young, probably 10 or 11, and for years I loved it for the fact they sang There She Goes by Manfred Mann as a marching song. This was the film that ignited my love of all things Bill Murray. There is just a fun, sarcastic vibe throughout this movie. Ramis did an amazing job with the script and delivers as Russell Ziskey. While it may not be his most sophisticated script it certainly contains all the earmarks of a Ramis story with his commentary on the the military indoctrination of soldiers and the absurdity of war and propaganda.
“Come on, *all* the long distance lines are down? What about the satellite? Is it snowing in space? Don’t you have some kind of a line that you keep open for emergencies or for celebrities? I’m both. I’m a celebrity in an emergency.” — Phil Connors
In the worst possible situation for a douche bag reporter to find himself in, Phil Connors gets stuck in a little town and has to repeat the day over and over and over and over again. Murray’s on fire in this movie but so is the script by Ramis. BING! The performances by many of the supporting characters is also a treat. The real pleasure here is watching how Ramis moves Murray’s character transformation from douche bag to a character you can actually respect by the end of the picture. All this and a love story to boot. While the acid being spilled on the page in this film is awesome to behold and a delight to listen to. A particular highlight is watching Murray and Stephen Tobolowsky interact – each time is pure gold.
“I smell varmint poontang. And the only good varmint poontang is dead varmint poontang, I think.” — Carl Spackler
The most memorable plot of man versus nature takes place between a groundskeeper and a groundhog. I think Ramis had a secret love for the little bastards. Getting no respect, none I tellya. The funny thing with this is that if you were to ask almost anyone about this movie they would tell you about Bill Murray as Carl Spackler and his battle with that elusive rodent. However that is only a scant few moments in a film that is really about a caddy trying to get a scholarship and gets caught up in the battle between Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight’s characters. It also marks my favourite performances by both Dangerfield and Chevy Chase. I’d be hard pressed to find better work from either man. Ramis’ script zips along at breakneck speed delivering a multitude of laughs throughout. This also marks Ramis’ directorial debut.
“We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!” — Clark Griswald
On a cross country road trip to Wally World, the Griswalds endure one ridiculous situation after another. I, like many, will always remember this movie for introducing me to Christie Brinkley. Here Harold Ramis steps into the director’s chair for the second time in his career and makes another classic 80’s comedy that actually spawned multiple sequels of which all have been successful. Ramis gave Chevy Chase probably his most iconic and recognizable role of his career. The film is also riddled with SCTV and Saturday Night Live alum. It’s a fun ride as we see a man try to give his family the best, most fun filled vacation of their lives. Over the course of the trip we question all of Clark Griswald’s motives on his Quixotic quest to do right by his family.
So there it is, my list. There are so many more that I could have added but I wanted to go with what I think of as the best representatives Ramis’ work. If you are looking for something to watch this weekend, give one or all of these a try.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!