Sadly I have found there to be a dearth of academic scholarship on the 1980 classic ‘Caddyshack’. Consider the below essay from my MA at UCC a remedy to that.
Over sixty years has passed since the release of John Ford’s 1952 Technicolor romantic comedy drama, The Quiet Man. Today many of the film’s themes may seem outdated, camp, and at times even cringe worthy. Nonetheless, it was culturally significant in that it portrayed many cultural and historical trends of the time within Ireland as well as the Irish diaspora. Like a cultural time capsule, the film gives us an early view of the Irish diaspora returning to Ireland. It set an early example of a common theme of an Irish-American returning, often “expressing interest in love or land acquisition” (Monahan 326). This can serve as a modern understanding to trends amongst the people of Ireland and the Americans of Irish descent who were struggling to cling to an Irish identity abroad. Interestingly, many of the same historical trends which director John Ford fit into, can be seen mirrored nearly thirty years later in the comedy film Caddyshack. This is not to say though, that the two films do not have significant differences in the social patterns being portrayed. Both films document the interaction between the Irish from Ireland and the Irish-American diaspora as well as demonstrating a sense of ‘otherness’ felt by Irish-Americans within the broader White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture of America. However, both films also form an inverse of one another; where The Quiet Man explores these narratives in the context of an Irish-American in love with an Irish woman set in Ireland, Caddyshack depicts an Irish-American in and out of love with an Irish woman, set in America. This essay will compare the depiction of Irish people and the Irish diaspora in both films against the backdrop of contemporary social and demographic trends, namely, that The Quiet Man took place in an era of Irish-Americans beginning to rapidly enter into middle class white American society, while Caddyshack depicts Irish-Americans largely left behind from this affluence, thus continuing to cling to an ethnic Irish identity.
In order to understand The Quiet Man as a more complex film than it is often seen as, one must first look at director John Ford’s sense of Irish identity, which was equally complex. America has long held the paradigm of allegiance to nation over ethnicity, as Adrian Frazier writes “Emigrate or starve had been the dilemma in [first-generation immigrants’] home countries, and integrate or starve was often their only choice in America”, (Hollywood 19). Prior to the internet and jet travel to bridge the two nations, it is easy to see how first generation Irish-Americans must have felt a tremendous burden of isolation and otherness during this integration, and John Ford was no exception. Frazier goes on to write that “An ethnic profile could, as Emile Durkheim suggested, provide citizens of a modern state with spiritual guidance and consolation, helping them steer clear of the despair that attends complete normlessness (anomie)” (Hollywood 19). This is an important aspect of understanding the dominant social paradigm John Ford was trying to speak to. He was attempting to prove his American-ness as a first generation American, as well as asserting his Irish-ness, as a first generation Irish-American. What makes this dual identity so noteworthy, was the precarious nature of experimenting with loyalty and national and ethnic identity in the conformity-focused age of McCarthyism.
At first glance, John Ford seems to be as patriotically American as one could have been. He spent the bulk of his careers making Westerns which celebrated many of the romantic ideals upon which the United States was formed, and achieved the rank of Admiral in the United States Navy in World War Two, even earning a Purple Heart at the Battle of Midway (Frazier 13-14). However, this manufactured sense of national identity as an American, was just as much complemented by, rather than contrasted with, a strong manufactured sense of what Frazier refers to as an “ethnic identity” (Frazier 17). In the post-war period of The Quiet Man, however, an ethnic identity could at times oscillate between questions of loyalty and pride. James P. Byrne writes of the idea of The Quiet Man thus being an expression of “ethnic revenge”, whereby, “While McCarthyism struck fear and suspicion into the large majority of Americans, for an Irish-American community whose identity was still uncertain, it registered pride and signified recognition of their American identity” (Byrne, 32). This dualistic sense of an ethnic group taking pride within American society as it both assimilates and maintains a distinct sense of otherness is perhaps best exemplified in the ‘fighting Irish’ motif. In addition to long-held images of the Irish police officer or firefighter, a common visual theme of the Irish-American is that of a pugilist, as well as patriotic war veteran. Both of these last two are captured in Sean Thornton (John Wayne), by his profession as a boxer, and alluded to more subtly in his nickname “Trooper Thornton”. However, in the fictional village of Inisfree, all of the aspects which form Thornton’s dualistic sense of Irish identity in America mean nothing to the Irish people who see him only as an American.
Conversely, in Caddyshack, protagonist Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) presents to the audience an image of an Irish-American as both how they see themselves, and how society sees them. Like John Ford, star Bill Murray and his brother who co-wrote the film, Brian Doyle-Murray are Irish-Americans whose “parents were Irish Catholic [and] one of his sisters is a nun” (Shoard). Though Caddyshack is not a film explicitly about anything Irish, it uses the Irish-American identity as a backdrop for its clearly class based comedy. Like the film itself, its protagonist Danny is implicitly but not explicitly Irish. As the film opens, with its upbeat theme and animatronic gopher, it has no difficulty in presenting itself as the silly comedy it was initially marketed as. Nevertheless, the film immediately transitions to the home of Danny Noonan, and the music transitions from the extra diegetic to the diegetic, as if to remind the viewer that this is the setting of reality, whereas the country club with dancing rodents portrayed the implausible. This early scene establishes Danny Noonan’s Irishness with several classic tropes: in addition to his Irish name, he has many siblings, living together in a home with Catholic icons of the Virgin Mary and saints on the walls. The family’s patriarch is his working class father, who complains about Danny’s inability to save more money to attend college at the fictitious, presumably Catholic Saint Copius. Danny replies to this, “I don’t know about that place anymore, you know? I talked to a guy who went there, and he said there were only two girls, and they were both nuns”. This immediately establishes both the ultimate goal and conflict of the film, to ‘get girls’ as well as establishing Danny’s dual sense repression. He is repressed for his class and ethnicity by the wealthy WASPs to soon be introduced, and also feels trapped by sexual desire within his own community. He then storms off, his father yelling at him and threatening to have him sent to work in the lumberyard if he does not go to university. This sets up the second of Danny’s goals at stake; to escape from his working class surroundings, and achieve middle class status. As he leaves, the film’s theme song again plays extra diegeticly, as if to remind the viewer that they are going back from a real world of class struggle inhabited by Irish-Americans to a goofy comedy.
While The Quiet Man was man was made in a decade of unprecedented middle class growth, affluence, and optimism in America, Caddyshack was made in a period of economic doubt and despair. John Bodnar writes:
Changes that took place in the sixties and beyond were not only the result of the well-known political controversies of the time but were also induced by the growing ability of mass culture to dominate both cultural and political expression. Thus, by the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, with the power of political, moral, and even film authorities in some decline, the disorder, confusion, and anger that existed in the emotional and social worlds of common people was transferred more directly to the screen than possibly at any time in the era of sound pictures (Bodnar 178).
This sense of economic frustration is displayed as Danny rides his bicycle to work at Bushwood Country Club, crossing the tracks, and looking admiringly at the increasingly large and wealthy homes. His struggle for socio-economic mobility, the foundation of the American Dream, is almost exactly the opposite of the beginning of The Quiet Man, in which Sean Thornton is returning to the more pastoral Ireland from the powerful and industrial hub of Pittsburgh in the United States. Both Danny and Sean however, rely on an ethnic identity which sets them apart from wealthy WASPs, making Danny as different and other to them, as Sean’s American identity makes him to the Irish people of Inisfree. In Caddyshack this is seen immediately at Bushwood, where the other caddies have similar ethnic profiles, such as Tony D’Annunzio (Scott Colomby), the slick Italian American against whom Danny is in competition, or Smoke Porterhouse (Jackie Davis), the African-American shoe shiner.
While The Quiet Man is a world free of sectarian division, with Catholic Father Lonegan (Ward Bond) and the Protestant Reverend Cyril Playfair (Arthur Shields) getting along amicably, the world of Caddyshack has regressed to a world in which Catholics are just another group to be marginalized. The wealthy antagonist Judge Smails (Ted Knight), begins a joke to Bishop Fred Pickering (Henry Wilcoxon), a Protestant vicar, “Say…have you heard the latest one, about the Catholic, the coloured boy, and Jew who go to Heaven?”. Even wealth is transcended in determining one’s otherness at Bushwood. Judge Smails and Bishop Pickering represent traditional WASP “old money” culturally contrasted by the “new money” of Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield). He enters with one of the only non-white characters, Mr. Wang, telling him jokingly that the country club is “restricted” and to therefore not tell anyone that he is Jewish. The joke is of course that Czervik clearly represents the Jewish trope of the film, using Yiddish words like “shmear” and “rabbi”. As for his unprivileged background, he tells his caddies on the green that as a young man their age, he would carry bags of ice up 15 flights of steps, and jokes to Tony that “They say for Italians this is skilled labor”. This recollection of manual labor conveys some sense of hope and inspiration for the young, ethnic, working class caddies, but Al Czervik is the exception and not the rule. For the most part, the wealthy WASPs of Bushwood, even the sympathetic and likeable Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) who comically alludes to a lumber yard he owns but cannot recall the location of, remain largely aloof to the caddies, and it is hard to imagine they ever had to perform manual labor as youths to reach their current stations in life.
Like the portrayal of Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man being an astute reflection of trends within the Irish diaspora of his time, it is impossible to dismiss Al Czervik as nothing more than Animal House style silliness. A tremendous amount of social, cultural, economic and political changes occurred between the release of The Quiet Man and Caddyshack. Most notably, was the large-scale shift from working to middle class. Lawrence J. McCaffrey refers to this in a section of his book, “From Ghetto to Suburbs” (The Irish Catholic Diaspora). However, it is important to note that by the late 1970s not all Irish-American working class urban communities had transformed into the successful middle class model immigrants that many others had. While many Irish-Americans who had become economically affluent over several generations gradually focused their identities less and less on an Irish ethnic profile, those who remained economically stagnant seemed to entrench their Irish ethnic identities even further (McCaffrey, 187). Just as America was experiencing radical economic changes, and increased secularism, many Irish-Americans who were economically frustrated like Danny Noonan, and unable to advance like other Irish Catholics, grew more conservative in their Catholic identity.
This can be seen in the film’s attitudes towards Danny’s sexual relationships with Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan) and Maggie O’Hooligan (Sarah Holcomb). Though immigration continued in the post war era, it did decrease significantly until a slight uptick in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, although by this point “The older immigrants and established ethnic community thought the newcomers to be arrogant and ungrateful for the hospitality of their hosts. So the two groups often clashed” (Almeida 563). This is not to say of course that many New Irish immigrants like Maggie did not assimilate into existing Irish ethnic communities, further entrenching their status within America. Though critical analysis of Caddyshack is sparse, it is interesting to note that many contemporary film reviews mentioned Maggie’s stereotypical feminine Irish archetype, as well as the seemingly contradictory nature of that archetype in a rapidly changing social landscape. Judy Stone, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time said, “the Poor but Passionate [sic] Maggie O’Hooligan, as Irish Catholic as can be, but she thinks she may be an unwed mother. Joke. (Actually, Sarah is a breath of fresh Galway air in this jocks’ locker room” (Weinman). This demonstrates that contemporary audiences interpreted Maggie more as a manufactured Irish archetype than a character in her own right, who happened to be Irish. Though she is a manufactured archetype, with a stereotypically manufactured accent, she provides a contemporary view of many cultural attitudes and expectations of the Irish in America at the time. Though Danny Noonan is an American, with parents who both have American accents, he is understood by the viewer to be somehow Irish, as demonstrated through class, religious, and ethnic devices. Yet despite his attempts to rise economically, or his sexual activities which stand in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s teaching, when Bishop Pickering asks him if he is a Roman Catholic, he answers unequivocally in the affirmative, as if it is something he cannot change. He floats the possibility of Maggie seeking an abortion, and resignedly offers to marry her when she declares her intention to ‘keep’ the baby. Like Sean Thornton who tries to be both Irish and American, as well as Irish-American communities in the 1970s and 1980s, Danny seems to want to rise past his Irish identity, while at the same time clinging to it.
Just as Ford saw The Quiet Man as his ‘sexiest film’ (Frazier 230), Caddyshack was similarly considered a sexually risqué film of its time, and reflected the contemporary social attitudes regarding sex. As mentioned before, the onus of the film is entirely on the ability of the male characters to have sex, as opposed to winning over a single woman, as in The Quiet Man. Additionally, a striking parallel between the two can be see among the characters of Al Czervik and Michaeleen Oge Flynn (Barry FitzGerald). Both men appear at times as the archetypical old man, and at others as a rowdy source of mischief. As Michaleen states towards the end of the film ‘Homeric!’ ‘Impetuous’ in viewing the broken marital bed of Sean and Mary Kate. Similarly, towards the end of Caddyshack, Al shouts to the crowds after his and Danny’s victory, that “We’re all gonna get laid”, to triumphant jubilation as the film concludes. McCaffrey says of this attitude around the 1970s that, “Literary and theatre depictors [sic] of Irish-American Catholicism have dwelled on sexual frustration as the sources of its neuroses, psychoses, and alcoholism” (Irish Catholic Diaspora, 179). In examining the idea of an Irish-American male’s story of sexual conquest in the manner of sexually frustrated neurosis, The Quiet Man and Caddyshack explore not only the economic but also social and sexual attitudes contemporary within Ireland and the Irish diaspora.
To many viewers, Maureen O’Hara was the embodiment of Irish feminine sexuality, and seems as much a romantic prop in The Quiet Man’s nostalgia as the beautiful green landscape behind her. Maggie O’Hooligan in Caddyshack could not be further from this depiction. Maggie’s role is played by American actress Sarah Holcomb, who employs a hardly believable stage-Irish accent throughout the film. She initially is pursued by Danny after he wins his caddy’s tournament. He approaches her sitting on the steps of her house alongside the only black woman seen in the entire film, who says nothing but rather sits there silently as if to only signify that Maggie, like the ethnic white males of the film, can be lumped together as the Other to the WASPs of Bushwood. After their initial sexual encounter, however, Maggie is ignored completely, and humiliated as Danny’s attention shifts back towards Lacey Underall, the embodiment of WASP beauty. Remarkably, Danny seems to be at a loss for words much the same way Sean Thornton found himself in The Quiet Man for Mary Kate. This inverse could be interpreted perhaps as a cynical rebuke of The Quiet Man’s portrayal of the Irish feminine idyll. While The Quiet Man uses Mary Kate’s beauty in portraying an Irish-American pursuing his “dream of returning to Ireland” (Gibbons, 77), Caddyshack seems to be portraying an Irish-American attempting to escape this identity, but ultimately failing.
Though he does eventually sexually conquer Lacey, it does not represent his ability to transcend ethnicity and class, or to conquer the WASP hegemony which she symbolically represents. Danny is discovered by her uncle, Judge Smails, chased, humiliated, and humbled, just before discovering Maggie may be pregnant. Ultimately, they discover she is not, and embrace, further demonstrating that Danny, symbolically never moved from ‘ghetto to suburbs’ and clung to an ethnic Irish Catholic identity. In addition to remaining sexually frustrated, Danny remains by the end of the film culturally unassimilated and unaccepted by the WASPs of Bushwood. Though Al Czervik assures him he will make turning on Judge Smails at the final climactic golf tournament “worth [his] while”, this is never seen on screen, and only alluded to, like a marriage being assumed to lead to a life happily ever after. Additionally, Danny’s economic success is earned through Al, another ethnic outsider, rather than through a ‘blue blooded’ American relying on the traditional Protestant work ethic which historically created the American culture so initially hostile to Irish Catholic immigrants to begin with.
Though immigration and demographic trends have changed drastically in the United States since the 1950s, with a much larger proportion of immigration coming from Latin America than Europe, the cultural phenomena of Irish-American identity remains. From the famine to the Second World War, Irish immigration to the United States remained steady, and entire communities were formed based on this ancestry. Nearly thirty years after the optimism of The Quiet Man, Caddyshack seemed to be making the point that if by that point in America’s progress, someone was still ethnically defined by where their ancestors came from, and still hadn’t moved from working to middle class, they probably never would. In many ways, Caddyshack set the stage for what Diane Negra would write of decades later as “The Politics of Disposability” (Irishness). While The Quiet Man utilized a comedic and romantic method of addressing Irishness within America during the height of the Cold War, Caddyshack did so during the economic uncertainty of the 1970s and 1980s. Though the Irishness in The Quiet Man is sentimental and stereotypical, and in Caddyshack it is cynical, the Irish diaspora in both was pegged to ethnic, religious, and class definitions, and in contemporary post 9/11 film and media, this trend seems to be continuing, though oftentimes more in the vein of Caddyshack’s cynicism than The Quiet Man’s optimism.
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