The Caddy

The Caddy. Paramount Pictures 1953.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t really know much beyond that this is a Martin and Lewis movie. I guess Jerry Lewis is the good golfer posing as his friend’s caddy because he can’t handle the attention of the crowd. But he’s hopeless as a caddy. Laughs ensue.

Looks like they both have love interests? I guess there’s room for some subplot around the slapstick and friend arguments.

I’m not sure I’ve seen enough of Dean Martin to know what to expect from him. He’s clearly the straight man of the duo though.

After watching the movie:

Harvey Miller Jr. was supposed to become a pro golfer like his father, but discovered a kind of stage fright in his first tournament. Unfortunately, golf is his only skill and passion, so he can’t hold any other kind of job, and can’t afford to marry his girlfriend Lisa Anthony, whose Italian parents he rents a room with. When Lisa’s brother Joe comes home and demonstrates a moderate proficiency in golf, Lisa and Harvey convince him to enter a small golf tournament where the winner will receive $500, which they can use to pay off Papa Anthony’s fishing boat, and an invitation into a much larger $10,000 tournament, the plan being for Harvey to act as Joe’s coach and caddy. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the country club, a clear class division appears. As the golfer, Joe is immediately accepted as one of the idle rich’s own, and Harvey is treated as his servant, an assumption that Joe is in no hurry to correct, as he’s not only taking to the life of a socialite very well, but he’s getting the attention of Miss Kathy Taylor, a wealthy and eligible heiress. When he wins the first tournament, Joe is told that it’s traditional for the winner to donate the check back to the country club, but he doesn’t mind because Miss Taylor has invited him to stay with her, so all he has to do is pose as a wealthy elite until he wins the $10k. But he’s got no time for practicing with Harvey, and the Anthonys’ creditor is threatening to take both the boat and Mama Taylor’s restaurant in payment for his loan.

Strangely, this movie is framed as a flashback. It begins with Harvey and Joe as traveling comedy and music performers doing a Martin and Lewis-type stage act, and a reporter gets their origin story from Papa Anthony. Then the entire buddy comedy about golf happens, and then in the last five minutes it takes a sudden swerve into explaining how they got from golf to show business. Of course, with Dean Martin as a lead, he gets to sing, and the main thing we see the duo do on stage is a song and dance bit, but then during the bulk of the story, Joe sings a few more times, just because he’s a good singer and enjoys the attention, and nothing really comes of it except some ego stroking for Joe and the debut of the classic “That’s Amore” for Dean.

This movie seems pretty proud of the cameos from celebrity pro golfers, but I recognize none of the names. I think I only know of three pro golfers ever. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods, and this is from well before any of them played, and I assume well before Tiger Woods was born. I’m much more familiar with Fred Clark playing the usual blustering stuffed shirt type he often does as Harvey’s boss in the example job we see him lose because of the way he is. I noticed Marshall Thompson in it briefly as well, though I don’t personally recognize anything in his filmography outside of “Daktari” and its pilot movie.

It was strongly implied that Harvey is a terrible caddy because he’s clumsy and clueless, but in fact what makes him a bad caddy is because he’s trying to coach Joe in something he’s an uncontested expert in, and everyone expects him as a caddy to carry the clubs and stay silent and out of sight. While there are plenty of pratfalls and slapstick stunts, Harvey really isn’t all that clumsy, just a little socially awkward and receiving more than his share of silly accidents. The plot’s theme of social stratification is actually a lot deeper than I expected for a movie where a lot of the jokes come from “Jerry Lewis cannot deal with all of this right now and probably got distracted and tripped on something.”

As someone who doesn’t care for unrelated songs stopping a show, this didn’t fully satisfy me, but I found it a lot more substantive than I expected, while still being fun. One spends the movie more feeling sorry for Harvey than laughing at him, or offended on his behalf. So the movie takes on a different texture and different kind of rewatch value, even if it doesn’t ask you to think all that hard about the class divide it uses for comedy.

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