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"ANIMAL HOUSE" (1978) (John Belushi, Tim Matheson) (R)
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Comedy: The dean of a conservative college, and one of its fraternities, attempts to get a rowdier, bawdier fraternity expelled from the campus.
At Faber College in 1962, there is a conservative air about the campus, embodied by the Omega fraternity, which accepts what it deems to be the best and the brightest, but isn't very accepting of anyone else, including two potential pledges, Larry Kroger (TOM HULCE) and Kent Dorfman (STEPHEN FURST), a "wimp and a blimp," according to Babs, a name-tag hostess at the Omega house.
Larry and Kent arrive at Delta house, and Kent convinces Larry it'll be easy to get in, because his brother, Fred, was a member and according to him, legacies have to be admitted. This fraternity is the polar opposite of Omega: Rowdy, bawdy, and always home to the heaviest drinkers on campus. Beer is always available, beer bottles are thrown around, and occasionally, a mannequin is thrown out of the second-floor window.
The anarchic nature of this fraternity is what causes the college's Dean, Vernon Wormer (JOHN VERNON), the most consternation. What good is this college in being conservative if all of its student body doesn't abide by that? With such students as the wild John 'Bluto' Blutarsky (JOHN BELUSHI), the ladies' man Eric 'Otter' Stratton (TIM MATHESON) and jokester Donald 'Boon' Schoenstein (PETER RIEGERT), Wormer sees much reason to find a way to expel all of them. Accordingly, he employs members of the Omega fraternity to try to do so, and it's the right fit, because Omega hates Delta as passionately as Wormer does.
OUR TAKE: 10 out of 10
In the 1970s, for comedy, there was Mel Brooks, the Monty Python troupe, Woody Allen, the movie version of "M*A*S*H," based on the novel by Richard Hooker, Neil Simon's wonderful lively works such as "The Goodbye Girl," and much more. What "Animal House" did for laughter was to make the comedy genre something even more, just as much as Allen, Brooks and others were doing.
They believed that you couldn't just have wildly anarchic situations unfolding on the screen without direction or character development, and intend for people to laugh. What had to be done was to craft it all inside a story and character development through humor that people would enjoy, that they would really get into.
That's not to say that comedy was bad off previously. After all, with the Marx Brothers in the 1930s, Preston Sturges in the 1940s, and of course comedians on television in the 1950s, there was still a lot of laughter to be had. But what all these films also embraced was a sense of real collaboration. Think of everything you remember of "Animal House" if you've seen it before and try to peg a particular actor as the main star. Try doing that also if you're watching the film for the first time.
You may think that John Belushi would be the star, and with his brand of comedy, that could be true, but not entirely. Belushi dominates the film whenever his Bluto appears, especially when he's sitting in the cafeteria at the table between members of Delta and Omega, stuffing his face with Jello and spraying mashed potatoes at the Omega members, explaining that he's a zit. "Get it?"
But the times that Belushi isn't on screen, when Boon (Peter Riegert) is talking to his girlfriend Katy (Karen Allen), when Kent (Stephen Furst) is worried about Otter (Tim Matheson) taking his car to wherever they need to go, these actors have just as much power as Belushi. Consider the scene where Otter and Boon hit golf balls off a hill and they fly everywhere. Think of their reactions. Equally funny. Collaboration is the most important key to the continued classic status of "Animal House."
The comedy is also in the rivalry between the conservative-minded Omega fraternity and the rowdy Delta house. Just like Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon), the head of Faber College, would like to see Delta expelled from campus, the Omegas want it just as badly. They look like the kind who have grown up without a hair out of place, who come from moneyed backgrounds, and expect to some day rule the world. After all, they've done everything expected in their lives, to try to be the most upstanding citizens they can be, based on standards that only seem to be within their clan.
What makes this rivalry most effective is the pall slowly being cast all over everything. This is Faber College, in 1962. Director John Landis and his screenwriters and the actors have captured that precise moment when the world was about to change. There are particular scenes, such as the girlfriend of one of the razor-rigid Omega men pleasuring herself, exposing the hypocrisy in those who believe they are righteous and expect everyone else to rise to their standards.
Only at the end of the film is Vietnam mentioned, but it was gradually on its way, and beloved times were becoming momentuous times. Racism would come to a head and lead to the Civil Rights Movement, and there's an apt moment where one of the floats during the alumni parade, labeled "Togetherness," is split apart, its black and white hands separating.
The repressed feelings of the '50s would break out of that hardened shell, into something expected and needed. No one was perfect and would ever be perfect, so the Delta guys were far ahead of the Omega crowd in realizing that. Life is not only about GPAs and how many clubs you can be involved in, but who you are and what you intend to be.
The ultimate proof of the longevity of "Animal House" is its place in the National Film Registry for preservation. It was chosen in 2001, among 25 films, to be protected forever, never to be subjected to how time can cause a film to fade, by aging the prints used to make it. It's still a masterful rushing river of laughs after all these years, and rates a 10 out of 10. (R Aronsky)