Harold Ramis sadly passed away today. One of the masterminds behind the changing face of comedy in the late 70s/early ’80s, Ramis is a prolific writer, director and minor star, although he was a reluctant film star. Part of the famous Chicago Second City Improvisation Theatre Troupe, he went on to be head writer for the Canadian comedy show SCTV before turning to film as a co-writer on the massively influential National Lampoon’s Animal House. It was Ghostbusters that brought him fame, playing Egon Spengler, the third member. His greatest triumph as a director came in 1993 with the Bill Murray smash, Groundhog Day.
So in honour of the sad loss, here is my top ten of his work, whether it be as a writer, director or star. Rest In Peace, Harold Ramis.
10. Ghostbusters II (1989)
It was always going to be a hard act to follow and while it has its moments, Ghostbusters II was a disappointment. Lacking that same sparkle and originality, it still was a far better bet than most other comedies at the time. Ramis returned as Egon Spengler as well as co-writing the script with co-star Dan Aykroyd.
9. Back To School (1986)
Co-writing credits for Ramis on this Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, in which the brash comedian returns to school as a hapless fool with bags of money hoping to buy an education. Dangerfield’s persona (similar to that in Caddyshack) helps makes this routine comedy seem much more fun and most of the gags hit the target, even if it is fairly clichéd.
8. Meatballs (1979)
Bill Murray’s first lead, a Canadian comedy following in the success of Animal House. Set in a summer camp, Murray plays the slacker Entertainment officer with a wise-cracking line in one-liners. The film comes alive when Murray is on-screen while the teenagers around him lack that sparkle but it still has plenty going for it to enjoy. Ramis was one of the co-writers.
7. Analyze This (1999)
A genius teaming of Billy Crystal as a psychiatrist and Robert De Niro as a gangster with emotional problems brought out many comic possibilities in the Ramis directed and co-written film. A sequel, Analyze That, followed a few years later but lacks half of the film’s charm and comedy.
6. Stripes (1981)
Or Bill Murray joins the army. Ramis played Murray’s best friend in this funny tale of two loser who enlist and have to face drill sergeant Warren Oates. Plenty of big laughs during basic training with the mixed bag of new recruits, the film does lose its way near the end when the guys end up in a minor war. Ramis also co-wrote the script.
5. Caddyshack (1980)
A comedy with balls was the slogan as Animal House comes to the golf course. Ramis was a co-writer on this rag-tag, episodic comedy set in an exclusive golf club with Chevy Chase as a wealthy player and with Rodney Dangerfield as a loud-mouth millionaire, Ted Knight as a stubborn judge and Bill Murray as a demented grounds keeper. Infantile, it is a huge guilty pleasure.
4. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Chevy Chase stars in the mad-cap road movie playing Clark Griswold, a man who decides to take his family across country to go to Wally World and what can go wrong, will go wrong. This kick-started three other movies, none reaching the comic possibilities of this first film. Ramis was the director to John Hughes’ funny script.
3. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Ramis’ first Hollywood film as a co-writer was an instant smash and a hugely influential film. College life in the 60s with the Delta Tau Chi Fraternity. Breaking every rule in the book, this gross-out comedy has so many quotable lines and a superb performance from John Belushi. Nothing has ever managed to better it.
2. Groundhog Day (1993)
Ramis directed this smash hit romantic comedy with a difference, as grumpy weatherman Bill Murray has to go to Punxsutawney for the Groundhog Day celebration and finds he is living the same day over and over again. Hilarious, sweet and sometimes dark, this has become a modern comedy classic, thanks to Murray’s superb performance and Ramis script, which he co-wrote with Danny Rubin.
1. Ghostbusters (1984)
There could only be one film at the top, this is still a masterclass in comedy, as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd (who co-wrote the script with Ramis) and Ramis takes on ghosts in New York. The effects are still fun, the jokes never get old and it was a massive surprise hit. With Ghostbusters III close to hitting our screens, it won’t be the same without Egon Spengler.