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Back to School

Back to School theatrical poster.
Directed by Alan Metter
Produced by Chuck Russell
Written by Steven Kampmann
William Porter
Peter Torokvei
Harold Ramis
Starring Rodney Dangerfield
Sally Kellerman
Burt Young
Keith Gordon
Ned Beatty
William Zabka
Sam Kinison
Robert Downey, Jr.
Paxton Whitehead
Adrienne Barbeau
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Thomas E. Ackerman
Editing by David Rawlins
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s) June 13, 1986
Running time 96 min.
Country United States
Language English

Back to School is a 1986 comedy film starring Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, William Zabka, Sam Kinison, and Robert Downey, Jr..

The plot centers on a wealthy but uneducated father (Dangerfield) who goes to college to show solidarity with his discouraged son (Gordon) and learns that he cannot buy an education or happiness.

Author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has a cameo as himself, as does the band Oingo Boingo, whose frontman Danny Elfman composed the score for the film.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison was used as a backdrop for the movie, although it was called "Grand Lakes University." The diving scenes were filmed at the since-demolished Industry Hills Aquatic Center (see Industry Hills Aquatic Club) in the City of Industry, California.



Thornton Melon (played by Dangerfield) is a truly successful rags-to-riches story. The son of an Italian immigrant tailor, he is shown as a boy in his father's shop one day, bearing his report card, which has less than stellar grades. When he tells his father his ambition is to work in the shop with him, his father tells him that "if a man's got no education, he's got nothing," and that he can do whatever he sets his mind to do.

Thornton is shown opening his first "Tall and Fat" clothing store and eventually becoming a corporate giant, complete with a TV commercial in which he asks: "When you go jogging, do you leave potholes?" He also has changed his last name to "Melon" (from the original "Meloni").

After his son Jason (played by Gordon) cancels plans for a visit, Thornton goes home to his second wife Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau). Thornton is a widower and Vanessa is a money-hungry, aspiring socialite, unable to bear her crude husband. He threatens to expose her adulterous affairs after she threatens to sue him for divorce.

Thornton tells his chauffeur and bodyguard Lou (Young) to drive him to Jason's college. Jason works as a towel boy for the Grand Lakes diving team, not making the cut during tryouts, and is treated badly by his rival Chas Osborn (Zabka). Thornton learns that Jason is unhappy, with only his best friend Derek (Downey) there for support. Jason intends to drop out, so Thornton offers to go to college with his son if he'll stay.

Possessing neither a high school diploma nor any transcripts or SAT scores, Thornton’s efforts seem to be stalled. But when the university's "Dean" Martin (Ned Beatty) – a play on Dean Martin – asks how he can possibly admit an unqualified student, the next scene cuts to a groundbreaking at the new Thornton Melon School of Business on the university grounds.

Thornton has bribed his way into an admission, which earns him the wrath of Dr. Philip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead), dean of the business school. Thornton also strikes up a romance with Dr. Diane Turner (Kellerman), an attractive professor dating Dr. Barbay, who becomes further enraged when he learns of Thornton’s interest in her.

At the same time, Jason begins to attract the interest of Valerie Desmond (Terry Farrell), the same girl Chas had been trying to impress. Jason's popularity begins to increase as his father’s generosity spreads to the students, and he earns a spot on the diving team as well after Thornton—once a spectacular diver himself—points him out to the coach (M. Emmet Walsh).

As a student, Thornton prefers partying to studying. He hires a team of professionals to complete his assignments for him, including author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., whose essay on one of his own books gets him a failing grade from Dr. Turner. Thornton’s fraud is exposed by Dr. Barbay, who challenges him before Martin to pass an oral examination from all of his professors. If Thornton fails any part of it, he will be expelled.

With limited time to prepare, Thornton crams for exams with help from Jason, Derek, Lou and Diane. When the big day comes, Barbay begins by telling Thornton that he has only one question ... but in 27 parts. Thornton passes, nevertheless, after Dr. Turner inspires him with Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night".

At the championship swim meet, a little distraction from Derek fouls up the opposing team’s dives. Chas gives a lackluster dive, followed by a near-perfect performance from Jason. Chas fakes a cramp out of spite in an effort to make the team lose, but he is replaced by Thornton, who performs an “impossible” dive, the legendary “Triple Lindy,” to win the meet.

Thornton learns that he has passed all his classes with a D, except from Diane, who has given him an A. The movie closes with Thornton lecturing the graduating class that the real world is hard, so: "Move back in with your parents... let them worry about it."



Back to School
Soundtrack by Various Artists
Released 1986
Genre Pop, Rock, Soul
Length 35:34
Label MCA

The soundtrack was only released in LP format, but the score was later released with selections from the score of Pee-wee's Big Adventure on CD.


Track listing (Soundtrack)

  1. "Back to School" (Jude Cole) – 4:16
  2. "Educated Girl" (Bobby Caldwell) – 4:07
  3. "Learnin' and Livin'" (Tyson & Schwartz) – 3:25
  4. "Everybody's Crazy" (Michael Bolton) – 4:37
  5. "I'll Never Forget Your Face" (Philip Ingram) – 4:07
  6. "Twist and Shout" (Rodney Dangerfield) – 2:51
  7. "Dead Man's Party" (Oingo Boingo) – 6:17
  8. "On My Way" (Tyson & Schwartz) – 3:30
  9. "Respect" (Aretha Franklin) – 2:24

See also


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Back to School is a 1986 comedy film about a wealthy but uneducated father who goes to college to show solidarity with his troubled son.

Thornton Melon

  • Good teacher, he really seems to care....about what I have no idea.
  • Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.
  • Don't mind Lou - he's only the second generation in his family to stand up straight.
  • I never get physical. I just get upset. Then he gets physical. (Lou crushes a napkin holder in one hand)


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