Directed By: Alan Metter
Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr.
Tag line: "Registration Starts Friday, June 13th, at Theaters Everywhere"
Trivia: In the original script, the lead character was poor
With all due respect to Henny Youngman, I always considered Rodney Dangerfield the king of the one-liners (“I tell you, I had so many pimples when I was a kid”, he said in one bit, “that when I fell asleep in the library, blind kids tried to read my face”), and while he didn’t appear in all that many films, those he did make were memorable. Back to School, a 1986 comedy directed by Alan Metter, was certainly one of his best.
After breaking it off with his unfaithful second wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), self-made millionaire Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) decides to improve himself by returning to school. He enrolls at Grand Lakes University, which also happens to be where his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), is currently enrolled (at first reluctant to allow someone who never finished high school into their University, the administration has a change of heart when the elder Melon coughs up a “generous” cash donation). Once there, Thornton helps his son get onto the diving team, and even meets a beautiful literature professor (Sally Kellerman), with whom he falls instantly in love. Unfortunately, Thornton isn’t a very good student, and his attempts to ‘buy’ an education fall miserably short. Does the oldest freshman at Grand Lakes have what it takes to earn his diploma, or will he simply throw in the towel?
Dangerfield gets the zingers flying early in Back to School. His character, Thornton Melon, made his fortune in clothing, specializing in big and tall sizes, and in a commercial for his store, he gets a few jabs in at the expense of his obese customers. “When you jog, do you leave potholes? At the zoo, do elephants throw YOU peanuts? At Thornton Melon’s Tall and Fat stores, we got you covered”. His cheating wife doesn't escape his barbs, either. When Lou (Burt Young), Thornton’s long-time chauffeur and bodyguard, insults Vanessa, Thornton comes to her defense. “Lay off Vanessa”, he says, “she gives great headache”. Not even the rigors of college life can slow him down. On his first day of class, Thornton falls head over heels for Diane, his literature professor. Jason warns his father not to get involved. “Remember, she’s the teacher”, he says. “I like teachers”, Thornton replies, “Do something wrong and they make you do it over again”. When he finally asks Diane out to dinner, she politely refuses, telling Thornton she's teaching a class that night, and one the next night as well. “Well then”, Thornton retorts, “why don’t you call me sometime, when you don’t have any class?”.
Back to School is a very funny film, and its success is due almost exclusively to the talents of its lead. This movie provides Dangerfield with a role as memorable as his Al Chervik in Caddyshack, allowing him full range to cut loose and do exactly what it was that made him a star in the first place.