Bill Murray’s 10 Most Bill Murray-est Moments on TV and Film
Three decades ago this month, one of the all-time great film comedies was unleashed when ‘Ghostbusters‘ debuted in theaters across America. It doesn’t matter that our young minds didn’t understand all of Bill Murray‘s cracks, because, as everyone agrees, Bill Murray is just plain funny. In good movies, in bad movies, in serious ones and strange ones, he can’t help being funny.
Forget just the films he’s starred in. He can steal an entire movie in a four-minute cameo. If Murray is in a movie or on a talk show or hosting a music festival or getting an award somewhere, it’s always worth watching. On the 30th anniversary of Murray’s most iconic role as Dr. Peter Venkman, we’re celebrating this brilliant performer with 10 of his best moments on TV and in film.
Every single line that comes out of Murray’s mouth in ‘Ghostbusters’ is a gem — a testament to both the script and his talents as an actor and improviser. Any of his scenes could have made this list, but our favorite has always been the bit in the mayor’s office. “Yes, it’s true: This man has no dick” is funny, but it’s even better when followed by Venkman’s explanation (“Well, that’s what I heard!”) yelled in the cadence of an eight-year-old making excuses on the school playground. Even when he’s standing in the background, he’s funny — wearing that beautiful, all-knowing Bill Murray smirk before he convinces “Lenny” to save the lives of millions of registered voters.
‘Saturday Night Live’
Murray’s ‘Saturday Night Live‘ character Nick the Lounge Singer doing ‘Stairway’ and ‘Shaft’ and ‘Star Wars’ are classics. No doubt about it. But one of the best and overlooked is Nick’s triumphant return to lounge singing in the cold open for ‘SNL”s 25th anniversary special in 2000. Murray is arguably funnier here than in any classic Nick sketch, whether he’s warbling ‘Me and Mrs. Zeta-Jones,’ making tasteless Native American jokes or getting in a Chico Escuela reference with Garrett Morris. His aside to Drew Barrymore is beyond priceless.
OK, this is a bit of a cheat, but how can you resist a compilation of all the Phil Connors/Ned Ryerson scenes from ‘Groundhog Day‘? The clip could be subtitled “the many moods of Murray” because we see annoyed Bill, scared Bill, angry Bill and facetiously loving Bill. Doesn’t matter which Bill you get. Whether he’s sneaking in sarcastic responses to Ned, gripping him in a tight embrace or punching his lights out, Murray is funny in every version of the interaction. Just watch out for that first step …
‘Lost in Translation’
Murray’s never given a more soulful performance than his one as Bob Harris, the American movie star who’s making ads in Tokyo when he “could be doing a play somewhere.” And still, his sad-eyed portrayal of Bob still makes room for Bill Murray to be Bill Murray (on Japanese TV, with an aggressive hooker or in a hospital waiting room). The funniest moment is Harris’ interaction with a photographer who wants him to mimic the personas of the Rat Pack for an ad shoot. Harris, somewhat embarrassed, manages to ham it up: “Ring-a-ding-ding.” “That’s more Dino.” “Joey Bishop, would you like?” He can’t help but be a performer.
‘Caddyshack’ is not Murray’s funniest movie, but his role as Carl Spackler is undeniably one of his most famous and endlessly imitated. And the reason for that is all Murray. Spackler was intended to be a small character, but became a major one because of the funny lines Murray kept improvising during his six (yes, only six) days onset. Fans all have their favorite scenes, but we’ve always loved the Dalai Lama story because it has the juice of an improv sketch. You can tell he’s making it up as he’s going along, and yet you know you’re in more-than-capable hands because it’s Bill Murray. There’s the slushy speech impediment, that great Midwestern accent (he pronounces “Lama” like Alabama) and all these little touches (“big hitter, the Lama”) that turn nothing into something. Then there’s the capper, said with the total confidence of someone who is completely crazy.
Murray was the first guest on ‘Late Night With David Letterman‘ in 1982, he was the first guest on ‘The Late Show With David Letterman’ in 1993 and, if we were a betting man, I’d guess that he’ll be Dave’s last guest when he retires in 2015. Among the many losses that Letterman’s departure will bring are Murray’s regular appearances on his shows – always event viewing. Over the years, Murray has dressed as Peter Pan, the Unabomber and a jockey. He’s gone swimming in dumpsters, played football with Regis and beaten up hecklers (it was staged, but still funny). And then there’s this appearance in 2013, in which Murray marked the 20th anniversary of ‘The Late Show’ by dressing up as Liberace, taking an ax to the set to find a time capsule and sang ‘I Will Always Love You’ to Letterman, who was equally tickled and honored by the ridiculous act. Somewhere amid all of that, we even got to see vintage footage of die-hard Cubs fan Murray being sly with legendary announced Harry Caray. Let’s hope Murray stops by a few more times before Letterman hangs it up.
This list would be incomplete without a clip from a movie directed by Wes Anderson, who has become a kindred creative spirit for Murray. It’s also been a mutually beneficial relationship. Anderson brought extra attention to Murray’s dramatic skills by casting him in 1998’s ‘Rushmore,’ and the actor has enlivened every one of the director’s subsequent flicks. The elevator ride to the depths of Herman Blume’s despair is perfectly calibrated Murray – the sparkle of his comedy buried in an understated, deadpan performance. When asked who gave him the shiner, he responds, “Either Ronnie or Donnie. I can’t tell the difference anymore” with a malaise that belies that he’s speaking about his sons. His actions enhance the weariness: He pours a tiny liquor bottle into a soda can, hides the liquor bottle in a towel cart, drinks from the can, hides the can, then lights up a cigarette while he’s halfway through the one dangling from his lips. After all that, the naive and proper Max Fischer still has to ask “Are you OK?” The dark humor of this question is amplified by Blume’s response. “Mmm,” he thinks about it for a second, “I’m a little bit lonely these days.”
‘Little Shop of Horrors’
Sadistic dentist Steve Martin meets his match in masochistic patient Murray, who skips into the dentist’s office like he’s Lou Costello. In his small screen time, Murray makes a big impression, making wild eyes at the grotesque dentist tools, screaming “Caaaandy Baaaaar!” as the work gets done and clawing Martin’s back as his tooth is finally penetrated by the drill. The childlike enthusiasm that Murray’s character displays for this peculiar sexual fetish only makes the patient stranger and the scene even better.
Within the realm of great Bill Murray cameos, there is a sub-realm of movies in which Murray makes a cameo as himself. He joins the Tune Squad in ‘Space Jam.’ He’s found waiting tables by members of the Wu-Tang Clan in ‘Coffee and Cigarettes.’ And, in the apex of cameos, we find out that one of the last six people left in the world is Bill F—ing Murray in ‘Zombieland.’ Of course, his appearance is short-lived because the guy who created Facebook shoots him in the chest, resulting in a great death scene. Little Miss Sunshine asks if he has any regrets and Murray deadpans, “Garfield, maybe,” And then Murray lets out the longest death gasp in film history, pausing in the middle to take a breath and crack up Gwen Stacy. Murray got a Scream Award for this, but why not an Oscar? Judi Dench won for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and was onscreen for the same amount of time.
We wish Murray would win more awards, just because his appearances on live TV are always dynamite. His quick tribute to Harold Ramis at this year’s Oscars was particularly Murray-esque (sly but heartfelt) as was his acceptance speech at the 2010 Scream Awards (delivered in a Venkman jumpsuit). But the speech that looms large in our memory came when Murray picked up a Golden Globe for his part in ‘Lost in Translation.’ He cracked wise about the boring people that actors often thanked (“my physical trainer killed himself”), joked about the Hollywood folks jumping on the bandwagon of a successful film, offered a meaningful tribute to his family, skewered Wes Anderson (“I’m away right now on a death ship called ‘The Life Aquatic’) and finally mocked the Globes’ silly separation of comedies and dramas with his sledgehammer wit. That’s another Oscar he should have won (for real this time), just so we could have heard what he would have said.