Meatballs (1979)

After appearing on The National Lampoon Radio Hour and several seasons of Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray was poised for stardom. This is but the first of the many starring roles he’d gift us with over the years. His role as camp counselor Tripper Harrison is basically him playing the role of Bill Murray, an exaggerated version of himself, that he’d been doing on SNL for some time.

The first of four films that Murray would make with director Ivan Reitman, this is pretty much one of the ultimate hijinks ensue films. That’s my theory of what makes an imminently watchable film: start with a simple concept, create some great characters, place them into some funny situations and let the hijinks ensue.

This is also the first of six collaborations between Murray and writer Harold Ramis. Incredibly, Ramis claimed in interviews that he and Reitman had no idea if Murray was going to be in Meatballs until he showed up for the first day of shooting.

This was also the first movie that Ramis wrote after Animal House. Originally, Reitman was going to produce and that film’s director, John Landis, was also going to work on Meatballs. He decided to do The Blues Brothers, so Reitman decided to direct.

Harrison (Murray) is in charge of the counselors and kids of the cheapskate Camp North Star, which has never defeated the rich Mowhawk in twelve years of Summer Camp Olympiad competition. There’s young love, pranks and Murray’s continual camp announcements, so many of which were part of my childhood and teen years as our local radio station WDVE played them for years.

The film’s best segment is Harrison rallying the troops to win the big game with a speech that seems to go nowhere. “And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn’t matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they’ve got all the money! It just doesn’t matter if we win or we lose. IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!”

Five years later, Meatballs Part II would be released, which has no connection to this film but does have an alien named Meathead. Meatballs III: Summer Job catches up with Rudy, played here by Patrick Dempsey instead of Chris Makepeace. This time out, he’s haunted by the ghost of Roxy Doujor (Sally Kellerman), an adult film star who can’t get into Heaven until she helps Rudy lose his virginity. Finally, the movie Happy Campers became Meatballs 4, bringing together Corey Feldman, Sarah Douglas (Ursa in the Superman movies) and Eraserhead star Jack Nance.

Finally, some interesting Reitman and Murray trivia. In the early 1980’s, Tom Mankiewicz (the writer of Live and Let DieThe Man with the Golden GunSuperman and Ladyhawke, as well as the director of Dragnet and the creative consultant for TV’s Hart to Hart) wrote a script called The Batman. Reitman would have directed, with Murray has Batman, David Niven as Alfred Pennyworth, William Holden as Commissioner James Gordon, and singer David Bowie as The Joker. After Reitman left the project, Joe Dante took over but nothing ever happened. Most interestingly, this movie would have been based on the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin run of the comic.

You can legally watch Meatballs for free on YouTube.

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