Thornton Melon's got it good: he has an extremely successful line of "Tall & Fat" men's clothing stores that he built up from a small New York clothier shop, and a beloved son who's off making grades, making friends and earning victories for his diving team at college. Thornton's also married to a shrewish, unfaithful wife who- *Whirrp!* wait, nevermind that last part.Newly separated from his shrewish, unfaithful wife, Thornton decides to head off to the university to visit his son, Jason. Once he gets there, Jason has to spill the beans on how college life is working out: he lied about the grades, the friends and the diving team and he's about to drop out. Thornton can't quite convince him not to, seeing how he never went to school and things turned out fine.With that, Thornton decides -what the hell- he's enrolling too! He gets in good with the Dean by addressing all of his concerns with a big, fat donation, and before long becomes the #1 party animal on campus. Just a few things stand to ruin Thornton's fun, though: a stuffy economics professor who doesn't appreciate Thornton buying his way through school, and a son who's beginning to develop the same gripe. Fortunately, Thornton also falls for a beautiful and very intelligent Poetry professor who sees that he can excel in his studies if he makes a real effort at it, but will he?While perhaps not as well-known as Caddyshack, Back to School is one of Rodney Dangerfield's funniest films and is definitely worth checking out for any fan of 80's comedy or the man himself.
This film includes examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Jason generally disapproves of his father's antics, but even he is cracking up at Thornton's secretary taking notes next to him.
- And Then I Said: "And she said, "Let's do it! The room's already paid for!"
- Artistic License – Economics: Thornton shows that his econ teacher might understand the theory behind economics better than he does, but he knows next to nothing about how to actually run a business.
- Artistic license comes into play in the professor's structuring of the econ class as well. Generally entry-level economics classes tend to treat econ as a pure social science and don't work towards the practical implications for business so cleanly as portrayed in this film.
- As Himself: Kurt Vonnegut and Oingo Boingo.
- Back to School: Dur-hey.
- Blatant Lies: "Is the work you turned in your own?" "I can't lie to ya, Dean Martin. *beat* ...Yes it is."
- Special mention to the scene as described in Fanservice Extra below.
- Bowdlerise: As usual, the TV cut includes some of the harsher language dubbed over. One example:Thornton: All right, I'll say it: 'Cause Truman was too much of a stupidNote wimp to let MacArthur go in there and blow out those Commie pipsqueaks!Note "
- But Not Too Foreign: Nothing is really made of it, but the flashback at the beginning reveals that Thornton's given surname was Meloni, and he changed it somewhere along the way.
- The Cameo: Kurt Vonnegut appears as himself to write Thornton's essay on Kurt Vonnegut. It gets Thornton an F.
- Cool Teacher: Diane, especially in comparison to Phillip. As just one example, she joined the students at the mid-term party.
- Corpsing: He's facing away from us, but Rodney is pretty clearly losing it in the scene where Sam Kinison screams at him about the Korean War. Jason's Actually Pretty Funny bit mentioned above was the result of his actor being unable to stop doing this because of Edie McClurg's timid Minnesota Nice performance as the secretary.
- Cover Version: "Twist and Shout" plays in the film, and it's sung by someone other than The Beatles (while they didn't create the song, their rendition was arguably the most famous). Rodney Dangerfield, who sang part of the song in the movie, also performed an entire cover version of it for a music video with scenes from the movie.
- Deadpan Snarker: Watching Rodney Dangerfield and Robert Downey, Jr. on the same screen is like watching Master and Protege.
- Dean Bitterman: The Dean of the University, "Dean Martin" is an aversion of this trope, as he's an ineffectual money grubber who allows Thornton to bribe his way through school. Phillip makes a good stand-in, though.
- Dumb Is Good: The film has a strong Anti-Intellectual bend, arguing that experience trumps brilliance (which is more in line with Anti-Intellectualism as a real-world philosophy than is "being stupid is great"). Thornton is a lovable slob who is successful because he's worked hard and had real-world experience. His opponent is a petty, overly-intellectual educator who teaches how to run a business but has never run one himself. This can be seen in Kurt Vonnegut's paper about Kurt Vonnegut receiving an F. Although Thorton's whole motivation for returning to school is to prevent his son from dropping out, it's more about not giving up than receiving an education.
- "Listen, Jason: it doesn't matter how successful a man is, without an education, he's nothin'!" While the movie does poke a lot of fun at "ivory tower" elitism, it's worth noting that Thorn only passes (barely, at that) because he finally knuckled down and started taking his education seriously.
- Epic Fail: Thornton hadn't done his homework, leading to this exchange in class the next day:Diane: Mr. Melon, how would you characterize The Great Gatsby?
Thornton: Well The Great Gatsby, he was... great! (class laughs)
Diane: ...See me after class.
- Fanservice Extra:
- When Rodney accidentally walks in on actress Leslie Huntly in the middle of her Shower Scene. Dangerfield and "Coed #1" have a brief Shower of Awkward played purely for Fanservice.Thornton: Take it easy, honey! I didn't see a thing!" (throws open shower curtain and stares bug-eyed at her) You're perfect!
- There's also Bubbles, which Thornton says is the only thing missing from the hot tub.
- When Rodney accidentally walks in on actress Leslie Huntly in the middle of her Shower Scene. Dangerfield and "Coed #1" have a brief Shower of Awkward played purely for Fanservice.
- The Film of the Book: Discussed when Diane has a tutoring session with Thornton:Diane: Surely a man of your age and experience must have read some of the things on my list. What about Macbeth?
Thornton: I saw the movie. Orson Welles. Great actor, big actor. He was a Tall and Fat customer for years.
Diane: How about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
Thornton: I saw the movie. Burl Ives. Great actor, extra stout. He was a customer, too.
Diane: A Streetcar Named Desire.
Thornton: Great movie. Marlon Brando. He wasn't that big then, but he ballooned up nicely. I'd say, pound for pound, our finest American actor.
Diane: Don't you ever read?
Thornton: Who has time? I see the movie. I'm in and out in two hours.
Diane: Oh, Thornton, don't you see? The reason you want to read these works is so you can experience them for yourself, so you can share the thoughts and feelings of the writer, without the interference of your actor and director and professor's point of view getting in the way. To truly share and understand the common feelings of all mankind, the feelings of being alive.
- Genre Savvy: Thornton shows this time and again, being a canny businessman who, while he may not have much in the way of formal education, nevertheless knows how the business world and human nature works very well. During the economics class, when he's good-naturedly pointing out all the mistakes that the teacher made in his hypothetical scenario, the students all turn around and start taking notes on what he's saying. This discomfits the teacher greatly. Earlier, in the scene in the bookstore where he tells his son to put the used books back and buy new ones, his son says the used book are good because they've already been underlined. Thornton responds with this gem: "Yeah, and the guy who owned them before you may have been a moron!" Then he buys the books for everyone in the store. He repeatedly shows that he knows how handle situations and to get people to come around to his way of thinking. Lastly, in the bar fight scene, when the football players are looking for some ass to kick, he knows the answer to the situation is to call over his bodyguard/best friend, who's the one guy in the place whose ass they can't kick.
- Head-Tiltingly Kinky:Phillip: What did he want?Diane: Oh! What do ALL men want?Phillip: He wants you to dress up as Wonder Woman, tie him up with a golden lariat and force him to tell the truth?
- Thornton: Here's you and Giorgio in the guest room. A little classy, isn't it? Here's you and Giorgio in the rumpus room. Another classy one, huh? Ooh, this one, I can't figure out. There's you, there's Giorgio... What's with the midget over here?
- Plagiarism in Fiction: Thornton Melon turns in an essay about a book by Kurt Vonnegut, written by Kurt Vonnegut himself, which he passes off as his own. The English professor gives him an F, telling him that whoever wrote the essay "doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut." Later on, Thornton gets called in by the dean of the college, with accusations that Thornton has committed academic fraud by turning in homework done by someone else
- Precision F-Strike: Thornton tells Kurt Vonnegut on the phone to go fuck himself after the plagiarized essay on Kurt's own book gets Thornton a failing grade and he responds by putting a stop payment on a check he wrote to Kurt (Vonnegut evidently said it to him first).
- Punny Name: The Dean's last name is Martin; this cracks Thornton up to no end.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: See the entry in Your Costume Needs Work.
- Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: Thornton Melon has a ground-breaking ceremony for the new school building that the university would open up in exchange for giving him admission to take courses. At the ceremony, Thornton flings some dirt and it lands on the head of a member of the university's faculty, particularly the one who criticized Thornton buying his way into the university.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Thornton gets into school by buying the campus a new building, and his attitude towards his academic workload is to just hire someone else to do it.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Jason doesn't subscribe to his dad's approach to higher learning, and becomes very upset when Thorn gets his underlings to do his homework, too:Jason: "I wanna write that paper, I'm gonna write that paper, because that's the whole point of coming to college: to learn something! But you're not gonna learn a goddamn thing if you've got everybody doing your work for you!"
- Self-Deprecation: Mostly averted, believe it or not. Rodney Dangerfield actually avoids using his signature shtick throughout the movie.
- There is one notable instance of it, though:Thorn: "The shape I'm in, you could donate my body to science fiction."
- There is one notable instance of it, though:
- Self-Made Man: Melon, the son of a poor Italian tailor, created a successful clothing line.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: History teacher Prof. Turguson, played by Sam Kinison. Watch as he informs his students on the reason for ending The Vietnam War. Then gets Thornton to state what he thinks is the reason the US pulled out from The Korean War.
- Shout-Out: The opening montage shows Rodney playing golf in his Al Czervik getup.
- Shower of Awkward: Thornton unknowingly walks into a female sorority house when he's looking for Jason's dorm room and accidentally walks in on a student showering. He quickly shuts the curtain on her, claiming he didn't see anything, but briefly opens it back up and says, "You're perfect."
- Soap Box Sadie: Subverted by Derek. The few times he starts ranting on social issues it becomes clear a few words in that he's just bullshitting for laughs.
- Stealth Pun: "Why don't you call me some time when you have no class?"
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Jason is quite a few inches shorter than his squeeze, Valerie.
- Uncle Pennybags: Thorn is a fine example. Even though he's buying his way through school, he's really cool about it. At one point, he gives a campus officer a couple of thousand bucks to help put his kids through school; when the officer tells him he doesn't have children, Thorn shrugs and gives him more money to get himself some kids.
- Villains Never Lie: Chas tells Jason that his dad bribed the coach to get him on the diving team, and Jason believes it immediately. To Jason, it sounds enough like something his dad might do, but you'd think hearing it from the one guy in school that you know hates your guts might send up a red flag or two.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: The drunk student.
- When All You Have Is a Hammer...: Thornton has very little formal education, just a lifetime of business experience at his "Tall & Fat" stores. When Diane names some literature she hopes he has read, he can only relate it all to movies made from that literature starring portly actors.
- Your Cheating Heart: Thornton catches his wife cheating during a party. The marriage is so unhappy that he could care less and happily serves her divorce papers that he has in his pocket.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Thornton commissions Kurt Vonnegut to write an interpretation of Slaughterhouse-Five for a literature class. When Dangerfield turns it in as his own work, the professor gives it an F, saying "I don't know who wrote this essay, but he obviously doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut."
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Based on a real instance where Vonnegut helped his nephew on an essay which earned the kid a D.