Sad to hear about the death of Harold Ramis at 69. Ghostbusters, which he acted in and had a script credit on, and Groundhog Day, which he directed and had a script credit on, are, I think, genuinely classic movies. And while Stripes is probably of its time (I haven’t seen it in a while), in its time, it was pretty hysterical. Likewise National Lampoon’s Vacation and Caddyshack. There was also the just-miss Ice Harvest, an adaptation of one of the really fine crime novels of a second golden age of American crime novels in the ’80s and ’90s. I admired Ramis for seeing the dark humor of the book, even though he didn’t quite bring it off.
His best films weren’t just amusing, they also had heart — and better yet, heart without sentimentality. It’s not easy to get to heart coming out of a hyper-ironic generation of comedians — Bill Murray, Ramis’s frequent collaborator, is one of the chief among them. I’ve noticed that a lot of American comedians start out as oddball ironic outsiders and then end up making soppy “family” trash where they have to get all misty-eyed and sincere in the final scenes. Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy all come to mind. Even Murray’s done a few.
But Ramis’s great movies — Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day — are both deeply felt and even moving without ever losing their goofy, hip, ironic style. That’s very cool. I was a reader at Columbia Pictures when Ghostbusters came out. I saw it in a pre-release screening and I remember being blown away by the fact that it was scary, exciting and funny all at once. (Obviously director Ivan Reitman gets credit for that too.) Since the picture hadn’t opened yet, I wondered if anyone else would appreciate it! Apparently they did.
And as for Groundhog Day — the well-read conservative will of course have seen Jonah Goldberg’s excellent appreciation, re-posted over and over like Groundhog Day at NRO:
In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup. On National Review Online’s group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.
It really is a terrific movie.
So a great career making films that not only made you laugh but touched you. Nicely done. Sorry to see him go.