Harold Ramis: 1944-2014

harold-ramis

Bad is usually good in Ramis’s films, if only because good is so obviously bad. In “Groundhog Day,” Ramis’s masterpiece, a jaded Pittsburgh weatherman named Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is forced to repeat Groundhog Day over and over again in the tiny town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. At one point, he devises numerous ways to kill himself:

INT. CADILLAC

PHIL begins to accelerate, turning a fast lap around the square. Gus looks back at the police car chasing them.

GUS

I think they want you to stop… .

PHIL

It’s the same thing your whole life. Clean up your room, stand up straight, pick up your feet, take it like a man. Be nice to your sister. Don’t mix beer and wine—ever.

The car skids around and comes to a stop straddling the railroad tracks… .

PHIL

(eyes gleaming)

Oh, yeah—don’t drive on the railroad tracks.

GUS

Well, now, that’s one I happen to agree with.

The director Jay Roach says that the six films Murray and Ramis made together define a level of achievement he calls “extreme comedy.” “You would watch people in the audience just lose their minds,” he told me. “Harold Ramis is the yardstick of what you want to reach for, of people’s bodies around you going into convulsions of joy while your brain is thinking and your emotions are deeply tied in to the characters, and you’re going, ‘Oh my God, This is the best two hours I’ve ever spent.’ ”

-Tad Friend, in The New Yorker in 2004, on the comedy of Harold Ramis. Ramis died Monday at age 69. Read more on comedy from the Longreads Archive.

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