Vintage Movies: “Groundhog Day”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


Groundhog Day (1993, 101 minutes)

Hotshot weatherman Phil Connors has drawn the short straw again. For the fourth year in a row, he’s been sent by his Pittsburgh TV station to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover its February 2 celebration, as thousands witness a local groundhog emerge from his hole to predict how much longer winter will last.

Connors (Bill Murray) is certain he’s meant for better things. “Can you keep a secret, Larry?” he asks the crew’s cameraman, now driving the station’s van to Punxsutawney, 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. “I’m probably leaving, so this will be the last time we do the groundhog together.” Larry (Chris Elliott) confesses he kind of likes the festival atmosphere surrounding the celebrated rodent. “You know, when I worked in San Diego, I covered the swallows returning to Capistrano six years in a row,” he says.

Rita (Andie MacDowell), WPBH’s newest remote-broadcast producer, sporting the hairstyle Julia Louis-Dreyfuss made famous as Elaine Benes in Seinfeld, chimes in from the back seat. “I think it’s a cute story. It’s nice, people like it. He comes out of his hole. He looks around. He sees his shadow, or he doesn’t see his shadow,” she says, scrunching up her nose and squinting. Phil flips down the mirror on the back of the windshield’s visor and says, “You should see your face when you do that. You know, people like blood sausage, too. People are morons.”

Refusing to stay even one lousy night with his cohorts at the heart of the celebration, Phil awakens next morning in a local bed & breakfast on the outskirts of town at exactly 6:00 a.m. Sonny & Cher are crooning “I Got You Babe” on the radio, and two local jocks drone on about a blizzard predicted by the National Weather Service. “The big question on everyone’s lips today … ” announces one. “On everyone’s chapped lips today,” corrects the other, “is whether Punxsutawney Phil will come out and see his shadow.” They complete the bulletin in unison: “That’s right, wood-chuckers, it’s Groundhog Day!”

“Is there any chance of getting a cappuccino or an espresso?” asks Phil of the B&B’s kindly proprietress as she pours orange juice at the breakfast serving. “Oh, I don’t know … ” she flutters. “How to even spell espresso,” says Phil, finishing her sentence under his breath. “Will you be checking out today, Mr. Connors?” “Mrs. Lancaster, the chances of me checking out today are 100 percent,” he replies.

As he will soon learn, Phil has been sentenced to never forget these less-than-timeless exchanges, and many more just like them. He’s been caught in some Ebenezer Scrooge-like behavioral time warp, without three spirits to show him the way to redemption. He’s doomed to re-live this day, for all eternity if need be, to figure it out all by himself—until he gets it right.