"Who's Bill Murray?"
"You made me watch Stripes God-know-how-many-times when I was a kid, and you don't know who Bill Murray is?"
- Actual conversation between me and my Dad.
As I've blogged before, back in college, many assumed I had a very conservative upbringing, in a very conservative household that banned all R-rated movies, simply because I've never been big on horror movies. That is far from the case. R-rated movies were allowed in my house, but mostly R-rated comedies. The kinds with lots of foul language, where the punchline was a topless woman. Movies like Slap Shot, Porky's , and tonight's offering, Stripes.
I've had an urge to revisit Stripes ever since the untimely passing of Harold Ramis about a year ago. I used to think that Stripes was unique in that it was one of the films he just acted in...not write or direct. But, re-watching it tonight, right away in the opening credits, I saw that he was one of the writers. According to urban legend, Bill Murray specifically asked that Ramis be cast in the film too, because they came up in Second City together, and Murray knew he and Ramis improved well together.
This film was made at the height of SCTV too, and re-watching it tonight, I noticed that Ramis brought in a few of his SCTV cohorts to help out. The most famous, of course, would be John Candy as one of the other recruits, at a time when he was just becoming a star. Joe Flaherty also pops up as a Russian soldier, and there's Dave Thomas as the emcee in a strip club.
Holy crap, the scene in the strip club. So many topless women. And mud wrestling. And John Candy triumphantly stealing the tops off some of the mud wrestlers. AND MY PARENTS LET ME WATCH THIS WHEN I WAS 8! God bless you, Mom and Dad.
The plot is pretty simple. Bill Murray plays that perpetual screw-up and goofball character that he's known for playing. After losing his job, his girlfriend, and his car all in one day, he decides to join the Army, and he talks his best friend Harold Ramis into doing it with him. As they go through basic training, Bill Murray is his Bill Murrayest as he harasses his drill sergeant, but eventually he comes around and becomes a good soldier.
It's pretty much the formula that the Police Academy films milked for all its worth, where at the end, our heroes have to pull together, stop the foolishness, and show what crack soldiers they've become. And, here's what's fun for a kid, the weapon they use at the end of the film for their heroic rescue is the "EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle." You know those awesome James Bond cars, with all the hidden gadgets? Well, apply that concept to a motorhome, and this RV pretty much transforms into a tank.
I think I also have to point out John Larroquette, in a before-he-was-famous role, as their CO, Captain Stillman. He's at his slimy best, a very good precursor to the role that made him famous on Night Court.
It's vulgar, it's crude, and it's still o-so-funny after 30 years. This is the first time I've watched it since I was about 10 or so, and I was finally old enough to get more of the jokes.
And, not to mention, a very catchy film score. You'll no doubt recognize it, because it's since been used in every trailer for every military comedy ever since.
Oh, and since I usually do this, I should point out that tonight I watched the extended edition, not the original theatrical version. You know how it is, when DVD was new and exciting, everything was getting an extended edition, and so did Stripes. Didn't know it was the extended edition until I got it home. Oh, well. It's still pretty darn funny.
And I guess the film did have a lasting impact on me. When I was teaching English in Japan, we had to get our classes to do warm-ups. I'd make my classes sing. Campfire songs, mostly. When this film opens, Harold Ramis is teaching ESL. And what does he get his class to do? Sing. Doo-wap songs, mostly. But still. A lasting influence.