Ian Hamilton

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

[There are many laughs] in the National Lampoon's Animal House: the decor, the uniforms, and many of the attitudes come to us straight from early Presley campus idylls, or even from Rebel Without a Cause, and at least some of the chirpy delinquencies derive from Sergeant Bilko, but the film's animating spirit is blisteringly up to date. More than just a comic fantasy about going back to school to punch some loathed teacher in the mouth, it's essentially a mean-eyed dream of vengeance against what Teacher, in that bygone epoch, used to get away with teaching.

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The setting is an Ivy-Leagueish American college in the early days of the Vietnam conscription, and the characters are sliced into two camps. There are the Omegas: the ultra-clean-limbed fraternity, button-downed, forever sucking up, but also—as we learn from the way they handle their initiation rites and from their attachment to the college military corps—sadistic, cowardly and crooked. Publicly moralistic, privately corrupt: the all-American good boy, we are meant to feel. Pitting against the goodies are the inhabitants of the Delta fraternity—a marvellous collection of scruffs and villains, but comradely, adventurous and free of bullshit. The Deltas booze and screw, cheat in their exams (or vaguely try to), play the new rock records, and tirelessly dedicate themselves to what they describe as 'pointless' acts of self-fulfilment. The Deltas may be pointless, but they are as resourceful as Hollywood commandos when it comes to protecting their own lack of interests. The Dean of the college … is busy planning a college parade in the local town (and he's been heavily warned by the local Italian mayor that he'd better make sure it's a really nice parade) and he recuits the Omega leaders in a plan to get rid of the Deltas before the great day. The Deltas, to whom all parades are rather like exams, fight back, and this is the film's main point of contest. (The showdown, I should say, is disappointingly tame and chaotic.)

Main contests aside, though, most of the film's fun is situationfun…. There are a dozen … genuinely funny individual sketches and, for belly laughs alone, Animal House should certainly be seen. But there's also an affecting incongruity, between that period and this treatment, which makes the whole atmosphere of the thing likely to last even longer than its individual jokes. (pp. 263-64)

Ian Hamilton, "Delta Plus," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2501, February 23, 1979, pp. 263-64.∗

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