I haven't ever been able to actually prove it, but I swear I remember hearing, many moons ago, that the Tim Matheson role in Animal House was originally written with Chevy Chase in mind. Now, considering how slick, smooth, and smarmy "Otter" is throughout the flick, I don't find that very hard to believe. And while I'd love to see how Chevy Chase would have fit into the Animal House ensemble, I don't know how much I'd love a version of Animal House that doesn't feature Tim Matheson.

One of the undeniable classics of modern Hollywood comedy, Animal House packs a lot of familiar faces and memorable characters into the mix. Peter Riegert's "Boon" is a silver-tongued nice-guy; James Widdoes' "Hoover" strikes a great balance between maturity and childishness; Stephen Furst's "Flounder" is a lovably chubby dork; Tom Hulce's "Pinto" makes for a solid 'reference point' for an audience member ... I could go on an on: John Vernon's hilariously evil dean, Mark Metcalf's absurdly obnoxious jerk, Bruce McGill's profanely inscrutible troublemaker, and (of course) John Belushi's maniacally entertaining party animal. (And that's not even including names like Karen Allen, Donald Sutherland, Verna Bloom, and young Kevin Bacon!) But for me, oh my fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, the true highlight of Animal House lies in the performance of Mr. Tim Matheson as Eric "Otter" Stratton. He's sly, he's sarcastic, he's amazingly slick with the ladies ... and he gets to utter the line "She was going to make a pot for me!" -- which, for my money, is the biggest laugh in the whole laugh-packed flick. And while Otter might not be the actual leader of this ragtag group of college-age knuckleheads, he always seems to be the smartest and smoothest dude in the room. Matheson's gift for off-hand glibness and straightforward sarcasm ("You f***ed up! You trusted us!") suits the character perfectly, and he makes for an instantly likable lothario -- even if, in real life, a guy like this would be absolutely obnoxious from stem to stern.

Plus, Matheson gets the parade mayhem rolling by saying "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part," and it's really tough to argue with logic like that. Thanks mainly to Animal House, 1941, Up the Creek, and Fletch, I've been a Matheson fan for over two decades now, and while it irks me that the guy's never broken through to "movie star" status, I'll take a memorable character-actor over a stuffed-shirt movie star any day.
categories Features, Cinematical