It’s hard to describe what exactly was going through my mind while I was reading the headlines yesterday about Harold Ramis’ passing at the age of 69. In a world in which countless comedies come out every year and where most are forgettable and/or clichéd, it’s easy to forget just how much of a rare gem Ramis was during the Comedy Golden Age of the late 70s, the 80s, and early 90s, both in front of and behind the camera. Thinking about Ramis goes hand-in-hand with thinking about the generations before us, and upon hearing the news I immediately thought about how my parents would react to hearing how one of the men responsible for National Lampoon’s Vacation and Ghostbusters, films that came out when they were around my age, has passed away. But the one thing I could not ignore was just how lucky I was to have parents who allowed me to grow up with Ramis’ work; like so many others over the past 24 hours, the news of Ramis’ passing inspired a great celebration for the work he had given all of us throughout his career and confirmed that his comedy classics will undoubtedly be passed through the generations to come.
Harold Ramis was a jack-of-all-trades when you really break down his filmography; from writing to directing to acting, he was truly innovative in every aspect. Ramis came out of the gate with his directorial debut Caddyshack, and although it initially received mixed reactions, it eventually gained a fervent cult following and has since become one of the most beloved sports comedies of all time. His directorial work and sharp writing (along with John Hughes) for National Lampoon’s Vacation propelled the film from being “another road trip comedy” into the screwball cult hit that it is today. Consistent in its humor and filled with slapstick humor done right (and not just for the sake of dumb laughs), the film also tapped into some essence of genre satire, propelling it above a story simply about a road trip gone wrong.
From there Ramis took a back seat, stepping out of the director’s chair and passing it on to Ivan Reitman, who took the script written by Ramis and fellow comedy legend Dan Ackroyd to make Ghostbusters. Arguably one of the best comedies in existence, the supernatural film following a group of paranormal exterminators was a gigantic hit, grossing almost $300 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim. Blending special effects with a witty and very quotable script, Ghostbusters was not only another success in the writing portfolio of Ramis but it also introduced the masses to him as an actor. His portrayal of Egon Spengler, the most serious and awkward of the team, was absolutely hysterical. From his hilariously stiff interactions with secretary Janine Melnitz to his various quirks, Ramis gave audiences a character that, although very odd, was also very enjoyable to watch.
And yet, when looking back on Ramis’ career, the film that immediately resonates in my mind is Groundhog Day. Without a doubt his most mature film at that point in his career, this simple story of an arrogant television weatherman who finds himself in a time loop repeating the same day over and over managed to be intelligent and inventive along with being laugh-out-loud hysterical. Still beloved to this day, where Groundhog Day separates itself from Ramis’ other works is in its surprising amount of merit and its ability to touch on some heavier existential subjects, showing its humility in the process. It’s a film so expertly crafted and fantastically written that it takes numerous viewings before one can truly see how the film unfolds and find out truly how good it really is. Bill Murray injects himself completely into the role, so much so that you begin to believe that it might have been written for him specifically. Groundhog Day is a special film for me, one that I can consistently go back to and find its charm and laughs just as infectious as they were the first time I saw it.
Harold Ramis was an absolute comedic talent. His ability to infect audiences with laughter on a consistent basis and provide films that are more beloved today then the day they were released is a testament to his genius and fortitude. From Caddyshack to Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day, Ramis’ legacy will live on in the filmmakers he has inspired and will continue to inspire for generations to come. So, with that, it seems only fair to end on a quote from Ramis himself to young filmmakers:
“I’ve always found that my career happened as a result of a tremendous synergy of all the talented people I’ve worked with, all helping each other, all connecting, and reconnecting in different combinations.”
Thank you Mr. Ramis for the laughs. Hollywood has lost a true legend.
Article by Nicholas Franco