Feb. 15, 1999
By the way, I'm an old-school guy, who believes you say a lot about yourself by the film you identify as your favorite. For years, I went with the trite (and Pauline Kael) and said Citizen Kane. Now, Citizen Kane is a very good film. But a few years back I sat down and asked myself, "What film has brought me more consistent entertainment than any other I have seen in recent years? If it's a comedy, is it chock-full of real laughs that last? If it is a drama, does it move me?" And the answer was: Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. If you haven't seen it, rent it (or buy it) and watch it. If you have seen it before, see it again. It is a comic masterpiece. I laugh out loud every time I see it.
Feb. 14, 2000
My Favorite Movie, Redux With Groundhog Day just behind us and Valentine's Day just ahead, it is time to continue a Valentine's Day tradition of this column and remind everyone to go out and rent my personal favorite film of all time, the romantic comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
I picked this film a few years back, when I got tired of aping Pauline Kael by always saying that Citizen Kane was the best movie of all time. I approached the process with trepidation and careful thought. I think the answer to the question "What is your favorite movie" says a lot about you, both obvious and unobvious.
After I'd made my choice and start to broadcast it, one of my friends (or, perhaps, one of my children) asked if I was saying that I identified with a man who was doing the same things, wrong, over and over. Actually, no. The part of the film I identify with is the part where Murray changes.
In fact, one of the things I love about this film is the fact that it never overplays anything. Harold Ramis said once in an interview that he'd filmed a scene where Murray (Phil Connors), the "hero" of the film, walks past a classroom during a discussion of time and develops a theory about the time loop he's trapped in. Ramis wisely cut the scene. Who cares why? Nor does Ramis burden the film with any exposition whatsoever on the rules of the time loop: he just shows them to us. Finally, no one tells Murray how to get out.
The climactic moment of the film, when Murray stops wasting the endless loop and starts taking advantage of it, is like a buried lead in a newspaper story. He is teaching MacDowell to throw cards in a hat and says living the same day over and over is a curse. She tells him it doesn't have to be. And that's it; that's the exact moment when he changes, even if he does go to sleep with her next to him and awaken the next day to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe."
The film won a British Academy Award and a London Critics Circle award for Ramis and Danny Rubin, who dreamed up the story and co-wrote the screenplay. The film was nominated for a Hugo (the science fiction award) and Bill Murray was up for, but didn't win, an MTV award for the film. Danny Rubin, obviously a genius, wrote just one film before and one film after and has no credits since 1994. Well, better one hit than none.
He now teaches at the College of Santa Fe. Previously, he taught screenwriting at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Columbia College and the National High School Institute. He worked for many years in professional theater companies, industrial films, and children's television.
Here's what Bill Murray says about the script in a Mr. Showbiz interview. [Editor's Note: this link is dead, but left here in case you want to try to find the original]
That script by that kid, Danny Rubin - the quality was unbelievable. His script, if you walked in the door, was a masterpiece. If any script I ever did should have won an Oscar, it was that one. It didn't even get noticed! It was because it was early. It came out at the beginning of the year, and by the time the awards came, it was forgotten.
And just once, he was struck by lightning and created one of the cleverest movie ideas ever.
For more information on the film, check out IMDB.
Here is Dan Grobstein's Feb. 2002 report on the new "enhanced" DVD of "Groundhog Day".
It has a cute animated menu, more (languages) subtitles and a short feature about the movie with interviews with Harold Ramis, Trevor Howard, Andie MacDowell and Danny Rubin, and a director's commentary with Harold Ramis.
No deleted scenes. Ramis doesn't have very much to say in his commentary. There are a lot of dead spots where he is just watching the movie or commenting on how much he likes certain lines. I've noticed that commentaries made for DVDs when they are first released are much better than re-releases. I guess the movie is more fresh in the director's mind.
The bed and breakfast is a private house and the owners were very happy to cooperate with the movie. The hotel was a courthouse. The jail cell is next door in a jail converted into a restaurant in which you eat in a cell. The German restaurant is in Chicago. The coffee shop was created for the movie and the town tried to keep it running afterwards, but it failed. Phil's room was a set in a warehouse. Stephen Tobolowsky gave a great audition and they hired him on the spot. Andie MacDowell asked Ramis if she could use her South Carolina accent in the film and he said yes. The scene in the doctor's office was shot at 2:30 a.m. on a two-wall set. The actor who plays the psychiatrist is from Second City and does a lot of voice overs and has done McDonald's ads and was the recorded narration on a Lake Michigan tour that Ramis took.
Danny Rubin envisioned that Phil would relive the day for 10,000 years. In the original script he kept track of time by reading one page each day in the bed and breakfast's library. The opening scene was shot later when they realized that they needed a better introduction to explain Phil. The cop on the highway was revoiced. Ramis' cousin and wife, former babysitter, his lawyer and the producer's wife all appear in the background. The Lloyd's store in the background of the Ned Ryerson scenes tried to sue for $100,000 in lost business. Ramis hopes that the audience realizes that the piano music in the coffee shop comes from the radio on the shelf. Bill Murray ad libbed some of his lines (surprise!). Rita orders sweet vermouth on the rocks because it is Ramis' wife's favorite drink. Bill Murray learned enough piano to do the scenes at the piano teacher's. Rubin's original script started in the middle. Ramis told him that was his favorite part of the script and then that was the first thing he changed when he rewrote it.
Ramis kept the Armani overcoat that Phil wears in the film. The scene at Gobbler's Knob that has Phil telling Rita and Larry about a better camera angle was left over from a cut scene where the groundhog escapes and Phil knows where he will go. They also cut a scene showing Phil playing the piano better before the party. Also a scene where he trashes his room. They weren't able to line things up to go back to normal. The town of Woodstock, IL has plaques around town showing where scenes from the movie were shot. They used Woodstock because it has a central square. Punxatawney does the ceremony outside of town in a nature preserve. The ceremony used to be related to a groundhog hunt. The gazebo was already there. They built a replica of the Punxatawney platform for the movie. The guy who holds the groundhog is the guy who supplied it for the movie. The groundhog bit Bill Murray through the glove right after the scene where he lets him drive. The party was originally supposed to be a wedding. Members of a lot of different religious groups told Ramis that he had their philosophy exactly right and that he must be a member of their group.
Nothing about the use of the same music as "Somewhere in Time."
He doesn't say, but I think that Phil's comment to Rita "Be the hat" comes from his own life. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't spend 4 or 5 months throwing cards into a hat.