The social dimensions of college life often inspire more consideration than its academic dimensions. Yesterday, this column reviewed “Old School,” a comedy about life in a fraternity. One of the most popular films of all-time about fraternity life is “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” from 1978.
“National Lampoon’s Animal House” is set at a college community in the early 1960s, and there is minimal evidence of the political upheaval that came to define many campuses just a few years later. We do see some subtle social and racial messaging, the students that seem to be more working class and sympathetic to the local black population are underdogs to the more privileged smug students who enjoy the top leadership positions on campus. The college dean (played by John Vernon) endorses the more traditional activities of an elite fraternity and hates one of the more downscale fraternities, where the members do little studying and get into a lot of trouble. Enlisting the very willing participation of the more stuck-up members of the Omega Theta Pi, the dean tries to manipulate the grade point averages of Deltas, the working man’s fraternity. Deans of students are inevitably heavies in these movies. The Delta members include Donald (played by Peter Riegert), who is dating Katy (played by Karen Allen). Another member is John (played by John Belushi), an unpredictable party animal.
This movie has an amazing cast, most of whom were unknown when the film was released. The late John Belushi is hilarious as John. He has a lot of great dialogue. His character also does some of good physical comedy. John Vernon is perfect as the single-minded dean, who is almost humorless. Karen Allen does very good work as Katy, who is more mature than her boyfriend and his friends. Also strong is Tom Hulce, playing a freshman who is new to the Delta fraternity. Donald Sutherland is great, when these movies depict faculty members, they are often disinterested in teaching and themselves self-indulgent and immature.
“National Lampoon’s Animal House” has many memorable scenes. One of these scenes is the toga party, which is very funny. Another fun scene is the end, where we learn what will happen to the characters after college.
“National Lampoon’s Animal House” is a must-see for fans of John Belushi, as well as fans of raunchy comedy.