Back to School (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There isn't much difference between the humor of Rodney Dangerfield and the humor of Groucho. Both of those classic American icons specialized in pricking the artificial bubble of the idle rich, and the pompously sophisticated.

Groucho was free to admit that it was reverse snobbery in his case, a combination of his superiority and inferiority complexes, best summed up in his famous assertion that he would never join a club with low enough standards to admit him. So he took great snide pleasure in all of his famous screen humiliations of Margaret Dumont, who acted as his permanent foil and stock society dame.

I'm not sure what made Rodney inherit the mantle. Maybe the same kind of thing. He's a working class guy who never really felt like he belonged to a lot of the parties that invited him, I suppose, and he also felt genuinely superior and inferior to the educated and idle rich that crossed his path. He was rejected a few times himself, I guess, because he didn't really get a career going until he was 40.  Rodney even felt like he failed at show business. Twice, in fact! He quit comedy the second time, at age 28, to become a paint salesman, and he didn't get back in show business until a dozen years later. I guess he really didn't get any respect.

Whatever the psychology behind it, he's the active leader in most laughs at the expense of the country club set, having exercised this schtick in films, in his act, and even in convenient cartoon format (remember him as the lost Burns on The Simpsons?)

This is one of his best revenge fantasies. He plays a successful clothing store entrepreneur whose son wants to drop out of college. Rodney knows the value of a good education, even though he never had one, so he agrees to go to class side-by-side with his son in order to help the boy stick it through.  


Leslie Huntly is a naked co-ed whom Rodney surprises in the shower.

Ah, wouldn't it be nice to be a successful self-made billionaire and go to the university? When he goes to a bar, he brings along a mafia guy to protect him from bullies, and he hires Oingo Boingo to play at his beer blast. He has a dorm room that looks like the Playboy Mansion, has NASA write his astronomy papers, and actually hires Kurt Vonnegut to write his paper on Kurt Vonnegut! 

In a typical Rodney twist, the English teacher tells him that the author of that paper knows nothing about Vonnegut, so Rodney tells Kurt that he's going to stop payment on the check, and they tell each other to go fuck off. The part of Vonnegut is played by the real Kurt Vonnegut, by the way, although he only has one line. (The rest is Rodney talking on the phone to an unseen, unheard Vonnegut)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Two sided DVD, widescreen letterboxed on one side, fullscreen on the other

  • no meaningful DVD features, but an interesting collector's booklet is packaged inside 

some trivia:
  • The show begins in the fall in Wisconsin, with the leaves turning, one month into the school year, but two months later, the diving team is holding outdoor meets with the crowd in shirtsleeves. Brrrr! The diving and other outdoor scenes were actually filmed at USC and CSULA.
  • 5,000 students at the University of Wisconsin showed up at the casting call for extras.
  • Rodney really applied to attend Wisconsin when he finished high school.
  • The late Sam Kinison does his insane screaming routine as a history professor. 
  • In a very surprising moment, Rodney did a very touching reading of Dylan Thomas'  "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", that brought a bit of a catch to my throat. I rank that as the #2 example of a moving lowbrow take on highbrow material, #1 being the Brooklynese soliloquy from Henry V in Penny Marshall's Renaissance Man.

If you like Rodney's schtick - "I'm a regular guy with a slightly nasty streak toward the pretentious" - he does it as well here as he ever has.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.8 
  • With their dollars ... it was a major hit. Took in $91 million at the domestic box office, and has since accumulated $41 million in rentals.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description,  this film is a C+, maybe a B. Very solid effort from Rodney, certain to please those who love comedies, and possibly with some crossover appeal as well.

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