Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#431. Back to School (1986)

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 that many films, those he did make were memorable.

Back to School, a 1986 comedy directed by Alan Metter, was his best. 

After breaking it off with his unfaithful second wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), self-made millionaire Thornton Melon (Dangerfield) decides to reconnect with his son Jason (Keith Gordon) by enrolling in the same college. Though reluctant at first to allow someone who never finished high school into their University, the administration, led by Dean David Martin (Ned Beatty),  has a change of heart when the elder Melon coughs up a “generous” cash donation. 

Once enrolled, Thornton helps Jason 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 world's oldest freshman have what it takes to earn a diploma, or will he simply throw in the towel? 

Dangerfield's patented delivery is on full display throughout Back to School, and  the zingers start flying within the first few minutes. 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 Rodney down. On his first day in 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?”. 

Though the supporting cast (which includes Robert Downey Jr., who play's Jason's best friend) is strong, the ultimate success of Back to School is due almost exclusively to the talents of its lead. Providing him with a role as memorable as his Al Chervik in Caddyshack and giving him full range to do exactly what it is that made him a star in the first place, it is Rodney and Rodney alone who makes Back to School a very, very funny film!


Unknown said...

I'm a big fan of this film -- a great showcase for a great comic. Rodney does a terrific job carrying this movie almost single-handedly. The economics class scene is (no kidding) one of my favorite comedic sequences in a motion picture, one worthy of the brothers Marx.

nnn said...

I need to watch this one again. I love the part where he makes armpit farts on the diving board.

DVD Infatuation said...

Wayne: Thanks for the comment!

Rodney is great in this movie. Even in CADDYSHACK (and all due to respect to Bill Murray, who was great), I thought he was the funniest one. In BACK TO SCHOOL, he pretty much gets the entire stage to himself.

And yeah, the economics class is priceless (as is Sam Kinison's "history" class).

Thanks again!

DVD Infatuation said...

YourPaleBlueDot: Thanks for stopping by. Definitely check it out again...it holds up extremely well.

PooBahSpiel said...

My favorite part was the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. cameo.