Harold Ramis

Egon cuts loose.
When I was a kid, I cannot remember how many times I watched Ghostbusters. Some good friends at work commented recently that their kids watched some movies over and over again. If I remember correctly, the movies were Madagascar and Wreck It Ralph. For me, that was Ghostbusters (and Jaws, if am being honest). I watched it again and again and again. I’m surprised that my VHS never burned out. Ghostbusters is one of those movies that I will watch to the end no matter at what point I find it playing on some cable channel.

Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spangler could almost go unnoticed in Ghostbusters. In fact, when I was a kid, he did. Bill Murray soaks up all of the attention, Dan Akroyd bats clean-up, and Sigorney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and William Atherton scramble to take what’s left. Ramis’s portrayal of Egon is so dry and subdued that to a 5 or 6-year-old kid, I barely knew he was there. I knew he was weird and he was the smart guy, but nothing much registered. In fact, on the Full Screen version of the movie (no black bars at the top and bottom for the uninitiated) Egon is cut out of the walk and talk with the hotel manager of the Sedgewick—he’s too far over on the left.

Bill Murray gets all of the praise for Ghostbusters and rightfully so. He is charismatic and off-putting all at once. In some ways, he speaks for the audience—because he hasn’t really been paying attention (or caring, really) Murray’s Dr. Venkman is almost a passive character in a movie where he’s the star. And, at the end, when finally Dr. Venkman is invested and he says, “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown.” The audience rallies behind him.

As I grew up, though, I started noticing Egon more and more. The bit where Peter gives him the chocolate bar (“You…you’ve earned it.”) and the look on Egon’s face is priceless. His exchange with Janine where she’s clearly coming onto him and he is so focused on setting up the computer that he can barely be bothered to speak with her is only funnier each time I watch it. Akroyd and Ramis wrote the script and they gave Egon the most ludicrous things to say:

“Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

Venkman: “Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head. Remember that?”
Egon: “That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me.”

Venkman: “You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog…”
Egon: “Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.”

And my favorite is actually from Ghostbusters II:

“Psychomagnatheric. Negative human emotions are materializing into a viscous psychoreactive plasm with explosive supernormal potential.”

Oh, psychomagnatheric, right. I give the man credit for learning and memorizing the line. I mean, I have, but I’ve watched the movie 500 times.

Harold Ramis breathed life into this character. It’s an old cliché now to say “There are no small parts, just small actors.” Harold Ramis was never the star. Probably the closest he came was in Stripes. But no one ever said, “Hey, let’s go down to see that Harold Ramis movie.” He didn’t need to be the star. He played every role with dry, off-color humor and humanity. Even Egon, for as strange as he is, has humanity. I always remember his very small part in Knocked Up as Seth Rogen’s dad; he’s on screen for maybe 5 minutes total, but he brings such gravitas.

Arguably, Harold Ramis was a bigger director than actor. Lest we forget: he directed Caddyshack. Name a funnier movie, I dare you.

He also directed National Lampoon’s Vacation. He also directed Groundhog Day, which while not my favorite is a cult hit. Hell, he directed several very funny episodes of The Office (Example: the one where Michael decides to teach the office about depression by fake committing suicide by jumping onto a trampoline from the roof. After testing this, he decides a moon bounce is a better idea. This also features the Dwight “Un-shun/Re-shun” scenes with Andy).

Movies have been a big part of my life. So much of my childhood was spent watching movies. Harold Ramis was a big part of that. He figures into the formative years of my psyche. Creepy, right? I remember Ghostbusters so fondly because a.) it’s an amazing movie, and b.) its universe was a funny, terrifying, and exciting place. Caddyshack only gets funnier on repeat viewings.

Death is a strange thing. I’ve been thinking lately about how if there isn’t a God what happens to us when we die. If that’s the case, hopefully we’re remembered by our friends and our family. Maybe if we achieved something big, we’ll be in history books. Or maybe we could make three decades’ worth of iconic movies and characters and generations of people the world over will remember us. I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, I think Harold Ramis left a mark.

I’d be happy if even a small fraction of the people who Harold Ramis’s movies had an impact on remembered me as I’m sure he’ll be remembered.

Another favorite?

Egon: “I’d like to perform gynecological tests on the mother.”
Venkman: “Who wouldn’t?”

The punch line wasn’t his, but the setup was just as funny.

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