For Hicksflicks.com, Feb. 28, 2014

Harold Ramis, perhaps best known for his role as Egon, one of the original four "Ghostbusters" (with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson), died Monday at age 69.

Ramis had one other high-profile acting role, as Murray's Army buddy in "Stripes." But Ramis was actually a more formidable comedy force behind the cameras, writing and directing some of the biggest box-office hits from the late 1970s through the early '90s.

In person, Ramis was low-key, wry and thoughtful, where Murray was more often deadpan snarky and Aykroyd tended to spew whatever came to his mind at 90 miles a minute.

I met with Ramis twice during the 1980s when I was the full-time movie critic at the Deseret News. The first time was a one-on-one interview when he came through Salt Lake City on a national tour to promote "Stripes," and then a few years later in New York City at a roundtable discussion of "Ghostbusters" (1984) with critics from around the country.

My impression was that he had a lot of things going on behind his eyes but tended to keep his thoughts close to the vest, and when he did say something it wasn't just a quip, though it was often humorous.

After college, Ramis put in time writing (and sometimes performing) for National Lampoon and Second City, and the Canadian "Saturday Night Live"-type television series "SCTV," before becoming recognized for two big movie hits he co-wrote, "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) and "Meatballs" (1979).

He made his directing debut with "Caddyshack" (1980), which he also co-wrote, and had another huge hit directing "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983) and co-writing and co-starring in "Ghostbusters."

Ramis' subsequent filmography is quite uneven, with a few successes and several flops but there was one big exception. Ramis inarguably made his most cinematic, structurally sound and enduring film when he directed, produced and co-wrote "Groundhog Day" (1993).

Whereas his previous directing efforts were more akin to skit films, each with a thin, sometimes tenuous narrative thread, "Groundhog Day" is a meticulously constructed "Twilight Zone"-ish fantasy-comedy-romance that gets everything just right. And subsequent viewings prove that it just gets better, funnier and more ingratiating with time.

If Ramis had given us only "Groundhog Day," his Hollywood legacy would be secure, but he managed to make audiences laugh heartily over three decades, proving himself to be a funny, talented filmmaker, and his influence will be missed.