Legacy

Honoring a Comic Legend

Harold Ramis — who died of an autoimmune disease on Feb. 24 at the age of 69 — made middle-class anarchy into mainstream comedy; here are five of his landmark laugh riots

Caddyshack (1980)
In Ramis' directorial debut, all the characters on screen — Chevy Chase's demented preppy ("You take drugs, Danny?" "Every day." "Good."), Rodney Dangerfield's outsize golf pest, Bill Murray's mushmouthed terrorist greenskeeper (above) — are united in their mission to trash the world of respectability, a mission that the movie accomplishes as brilliantly as the Marx Brothers' comedies or Woody Allen's early, funny films.

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
Ramis broke into Hollywood when he co-wrote the frat-house farce that launched a thousand toga parties. It remains a defiantly hilarious celebration of thumb-in-the-eye stupidity, with John Belushi's antic Bluto as its debauched id. There are far too many timeless scenes to count, from "I'm a zit" to "Let's do it!" But there's another reason that the movie is such a classic: By stripping the '60s sex, drugs, and rock & roll rebellion of virtually all its social relevance, Animal House helped create a new America in which beer-bong good times became the revolution.

Ghostbusters (1984)
Ramis co-wrote and costarred in this supernatural slimefest, a reteaming of Stripes director Ivan Reitman and that ringleader of knucklehead nonchalance Bill Murray. It's the quintessential comedy of the Reagan era. And as Murray, a charmingly spooked Ramis, and the motormouthed Dan Aykroyd battle ectoplasmic F/X, they seem to be inventing the ironic detachment that would become the comic stance of our time.

Groundhog Day (1993)
His most ingenious comedy stars Murray as a smug weatherman repeating the same day over and over and over again, with just enough variation to be laceratingly funny — not to mention winkingly philosophical. For even as you're cracking up at the karmic farce of a man trapped in a temporal tape loop, the film (co-written and directed by Ramis) is celebrating the Zen of what it takes to break out of the box.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Chevy Chase (as beleaguered husband and dad Clark Griswold) finds the perfect vehicle for his deadpan befuddlement. But the Ramis-directed romp is so much more than a road-trip-to-hell movie — the travails of this family unit somehow feel both laughably ludicrous and remarkably universal.

Originally posted Feb 28, 2014 Published in issue #1301 Mar 07, 2014 Order article reprints