1980’s Court-Jesters During Crisis: Airplane, The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack

As Kale Davidoff wrote yesterday of true perspective when looking at movies, I was reminded of the recent success of Argo, this year’s Best Picture, as it brought the paralysis of the Iran-Hostage crisis fully back to our collective frontal lobe.  It was the story of a heroic rescue that Jimmy Carter couldn’t use in his re-election bid . Instead, the ill-fated rescue involving the helicopter-crash was also Carter’s.

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The real magic of Argo (with its sci-fi movie pitch creating the smokescreen for the rescue) is its absurdity. 

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Add-in the muppet-balcony comments from John Goodman and Alan Arkin cross-cutting while we’re going through cinematic hell at the airport check station and the humor seems more poignant.

This irony may have been part of the reason behind the staying power of three comedies from the summer of the hostage crisis.

Llloyd Bridges picks the wrong day.

Llloyd Bridges picks the wrong day.

Try it sometime.  Walk into a bar, a driving range or men’s room and say, “Can you give me 15 movie quotes?.” You might get some blank stares–or worse in the men’s room.

Before you get escorted out by the guy who hands you the paper towel and wants a tip, try, “Name five quotes from Airplane, The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack” and you’ll have a hard time stopping them. 

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Within six weeks in the summer of 1980, three films premiered that have embedded themselves so deeply into our lexicon that you’d be hard pressed to find a more prolific year, aside from 1939’s Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath.  Seinfeld amassed a similar encyclopedia of quotables, but that took nine seasons.  Two of these three films made it to the AFI’s Top 100 Comedies list.

  • “I’ll bet you were something before electricity.”
  • “We’re on a mission from God.”
  • “I am.  And quit calling me Shirley.”

It’s the perfect trio of sophomoric humor and also was the polar opposite of what were seeing each night from Tehran.  (And on a personal hindsight side-bar, it’s worth noting that each of these three comedies are terrible date-films.  But I was heading into 10th grade and figured that everyone found Princess Leah holding a flamethrower as sexy.  Her chrome bikini was three years away.)

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Important social issues were addressed in each film:  saving an orphanage, post-traumatic disorder and our inherent class-system…

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But through these serious issues, we could still remember the important things in life, such as a sale at Penny’s!

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If there were ever awards for surf-stoppers during late-night television viewing, these three films would probably win in my house–along with The Shawshank Redemption, which, let’s be honest, didn’t have as many funny parts.  Two of these three films made it to the AFI’s Top 100 Comedies list (Airplane #10 and Caddyshack #71).

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  • “Oh, Stewardess! I speak Jive.”
  • “I should have yelled ’two!’
  • “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Maybe it was the hostages stuck in Iran and the advent of Reagan.  Maybe I still was coming to grips with the May revelation that Han Solo would be frozen in carbonite for three more years, that Darth was Luke’s daddy or that The Blue Lagoon out-grossed The Blues Brothers by $1 million.  (Now there’s a contest.  Try to get some quotes from that film!)

Not nearly the comedy that it was when it was released, but still pretty amusing.

Not nearly the comedy that it was when it was released, but still pretty amusing.

In 1980 America seemed to need some good laughs (or even bad ones).  And even crashes were funny, particularly if they are in the mall with a couple dozen smashed police cars.

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Aside from the one action film of Empire, the majority of the films that year were comedies–not traditional blockbusters with monsters or apocalyptic events.   Even Clint Eastwood was a funny guy in Any Which Way You Can (kinda).  Coal Miner’s Daughter, Ordinary People and little ‘ol Raging Bull at #26 that year were the Oscar favorites, but if you ask most guys which films they would freeze on during channel surfing, it wouldn’t be those three–sorry Marty.

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As time moves along, certain films rise to the top,  Shawshank Redemption and Office Space are classic examples of cable-resuscitation.  But I’ve never encountered more quotable films in my life as I did that summer.  I can’t even hear Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” without thinking of Al Czervic’s giant golf bag.

Let alone, try to eat a Baby Ruth near a pool.

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Of the three films, however, Airplane was the fan-favorite.  It ranked #4, while The Blues Brothers finished at #10 and Caddyshack was #17.  It also was the largest collection of terrible puns and sight-gags ever assembled. 

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Whether it was a hanging caused by boring narratives…

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Or an auto-pilot that found some true benefits to inflation.

  • “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”
  • “Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips.”
  • “Gambling is illegal at Bushwood sir, and I never slice.”

But each image from these films (even animal-tronic cruelty) can summon those quotes and I’ll leave this blog open to reader’s to provide their own favorite lines from this trifecta.

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And see if it doesn’t get a chuckle from some guy nearby.  And in 1980, that’s what we really needed.  Hostage situations don’t get laughs–even in dramas–until a considerable bit of time has passed…

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…nearly as long as Jake’s jail time.

About Kevin Walsh

Before creating MyMediaDiary.com, Kevin taught high school video productions and language arts for 25 years. He is the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His text, "Video Direct," is used in 40 states. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two teenagers. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher
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5 Responses to 1980’s Court-Jesters During Crisis: Airplane, The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack

  1. Robert Phillips says:

    What brings you to this nape of the neck–neck of the n–what are you doing here?

    Oh, for airplane, I had to get the exact words:

    Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We’re bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We’re coming in from the north, below their radar.
    Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back?
    Ted Striker: I can’t tell you that. It’s classified.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      The best part of that dialogue, Bob, is that it went over my head as a ninth-grader. It’s fun to laugh at stuff in second or twelfth viewings–like all the references in Warner Brothers cartoons!

  2. KT says:

    Too many from Blues Bros:

    “We play both types of music: Country AND Western!”

    “How much for the little girl? How much for your women?”

    “No, ma’am, we’re musicians.”

    What year was Stripes? I consider it the near equal of these 3, in terms of quote-ability:

    Lighten up, Francis.
    Czechoslovakia? It’s like Wisconsin- we’re in, we’re out.
    Boom chuck-a-luck-a…
    What sort of training? Army Training!….

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Great ones, Kev!

      “Lighten up, Francis” has to be my most-used quote for anyone who’s getting a little too wound up in whatever. I agree that Stripes would have fit in perfectly with this summer. Harold Ramis is under-utilized as a director. I will always have fond memories of the summer of Ghostbusters, after sophomore year, when I visited your awesome family for the first time.

      “Tell him about the Twinkie.”

      “Nice shootin’, Tex!”

  3. Robert Phillips says:

    A little out of left field, but “Army of Darkness” is one of my favorite quote movies. With gems like, “Maybe, just maybe my boys can pull this off. Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.” Or “Good…bad…I’m the guy with the gun.”