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Animal House: How Belushi And The Deltas Changed Comedy

Icons | October 2, 2017

John Belushi (left) and Martha Smith in 'Animal House.' Source: Getty Images / IMDB

National Lampoon’s Animal House is often cited as a revolutionary movie comedy. It wasn't like the comedies that had come before -- in a word, it was dangerous. Comedy takes many forms, and movie comedy had often been about wackiness -- strange antics committed by lovable oddballs, or cool guys who always have the witty comeback. Whatever the persona, characters in comedies had usually been harmless. There hadn't been the sort of menace we were presented in Animal House

This film, about the worst-behaved, messiest, most notorious fraternity house on the campus of Faber College, was sprawling and unpredictable. Viewed from a certain perspective, we were rooting for the losers, the bad guys, the slobs. What was redeeming about these denizens of Delta House? It's hard to say. They were somewhat charming, well, some of them were. Was John Belushi's Brother Bluto charming? Was he the kind of guy you'd like to know in real life? And then there's another of the more hypnotic characters, Daniel Simpson Day, known as "D-Day." At one point in the film, Dean Wormer is threatening to revoke the fraternity's charter, and observes that all the Deltas have bad grades -- except one. "Daniel Simpson Day," he says, "has no grade point average." D-Day had no grades and no clear personality -- he was a marauder on a motorcycle, there to start trouble with little other purpose. He was a wildman and a party animal, and in Animal House that's all he needed to be.

Roger Ebert hailed this unprecedented film as a triumph.

The movie is vulgar, raunchy, ribald, and occasionally scatological. It is also the funniest comedy since Mel Brooks made "The Producers" (1968). "Animal House" is funny for some of the same reasons the National Lampoon is funny (and Second City and "Saturday Night Live" are funny): Because it finds some kind of precarious balance between insanity and accuracy, between cheerfully wretched excess and an ability to reproduce the most revealing nuances of human behavior. ... It's like an end run around Hollywood's traditional notions of comedy. It's anarchic, messy, and filled with energy. It assaults us. 

The movie was a spinoff of the antics written about in the iconic National Lampoon magazine. It was actually one of many films to share the name National Lampoon in its title. The movie was based on stories written by Chris Miller, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman after drawing on their own real-life experiences in college.  

Larry And Kent Become Pinto And Flounder

The movie was set in 1962 at the fictitional Faber College. Freshmen Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman set out to make the most of their college experience by looking for a fraternity to join. When they came to the realization that they didn’t quite fit in with the traditional Greek life student body, they wound up seeking out a lesser thought of fraternity and became pledges, almost by default, because one of them had a brother who was a former member. They were given the new names of Pinto and Flounder and commenced running amuck.  

Delta Tau Chi

Animal House portrayed a group of misfit college students living in the less than desirable, Delta Tau Chi house. Not only was the house full of questionable characters, but it was the biggest eyesore on the block. The fraternity and its capers were well known by, and always on the radar of, College Dean Vernon Wormer. He declared the Delta house to be on probation and employed members of a more prestigious fraternity, Omega Theta Pi, to help him in his personal mission to collect the dirt he needed on the Delta house to shut it down once and for all. Dean Wormer’s wife was even in on the bad behavior, running around with the misfits in an attempt to get in on the fun.

The Case Against Delta House

Suspecting that they were being targeted, and in an attempt to avoid being shut down, the Delta brothers decided to steal test answers in order to pass their exams. What they didn’t know, was that they were being set up to steal the wrong answers and flunked the exams anyway. After this, and a series of pranks and misadventures including the infamous food fight and toga party, Dean Wormer finally had what he needed to expel the fraternity brothers and put the misfits out of business. To add insult to injury, Dean Wormer promised to notify the local draft board that the brothers were now eligible to serve in the armed forces.

Delta House Strikes Back

While they were seemingly down on their luck, the Delta brothers’ creative wheels kept turning. Brother "Bluto" Blutarsky, played by Saturday Night Live star John Belushi, rallied the troops with a rambling and senseless pep talk:

Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

The Delta brothers came up with a plan to strike back. They fashioned a cake-shaped parade float atop a 1966 Lincoln Continental to enter in the annual homecoming parade. After careful planning, and when the time was right, the float broke away from the parade and the car broke out of the cake exterior -- as the Death Mobile. And all hell broke loose!

It's Always The Screwups Who Make Something Of Themselves

At the conclusion of the movie, the misfits’ futures were revealed. Surprisingly, most of the Deltas grew into successful professionals and all around good citizens. Unfortunately, the previously well thought of students didn’t fare as well. The Delta brothers had gotten the last laugh!

Who Was Who In 'Animal House'

Delta Tau Chi Fraternity Cast

  • John Belushi as John "Bluto" Blutarsky
  • Tim Matheson as Eric "Otter" Stratton
  • Peter Riegert as Donald "Boon" Schoenstein
  • Thomas Hulce as Lawrence "Pinto" Kroger
  • Stephen Furst as Kent "Flounder" Dorfman
  • Bruce McGill as Daniel Simpson "D-Day" Day
  • James Widdoes as Robert Hoover
  • Douglas Kenney as "Stork"

Omega Theta Pi Cast

  • James Daughton as Gregory "Greg" Marmalard
  • Mark Metcalf as Douglas C. Neidermeyer
  • Kevin Bacon as Chip Diller

Supporting Cast

  • John Vernon as Dean Vernon Wormer
  • Verna Bloom as Marion Wormer
  • Donald Sutherland as Professor Dave Jennings
  • Karen Allen as Katy
  • Sarah Holcomb as Clorette DePasto
  • DeWayne Jessie as Otis Day
  • Mary Louise Weller as Mandy Pepperidge
  • Martha Smith as Barbara Sue "Babs" Jansen
  • Cesare Danova as Mayor Carmine DePasto

Animal House was a film produced on a surprisingly small budget and although it received mixed reviews, it turned out to be very profitable. Over the years, the film was well celebrated and enjoyed great success, including being selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.  

Tags: Animal House | John Belushi | Movies In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.