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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation


‘…Christmas Vacation is the Fanny and Alexander of the John Hughes canon, a sincere, wry look back at Christmases past, and a showcase for the great comic talents of Chevy Chase…’

What do we talk about, when we talk about National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? The third of the Vacation franchise starring Chevy Chase, it was based on a story written long before the franchise existed, re-tailored and adapted as the further adventures of the Griswold family. Writer and eminence grise of the Vacation quadrilogy John Hughes had little interest in following up the first two films, but convinced Warner Bros to adapt his original, semi-autobiographical story Christmas 59 as the giblets of this follow-up, with Hughes handing the directorial reins to Jeremiah S Chechik.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation turns out to be less scattershot and far more personal that the previous films; Hughes is very much the auteur here, and the Grwiswold’s adventures are toned down to something more reflective and wistful. Hughes being Hughes, there’s still space for elements seen in other movies, from the casting of William Hickey, later to feature in Home Alone, or the Chicago carnival floats from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The story is simple enough, Clark Griswold (Chase) and his wife Ellen (wonderfully played by Beverley D’Angelo) aim to have a quiet Christmas with their family, including abrasive cousin Eddie (ideally cast Randy Quaid) who turns up in an RV which pumps out explosive effluent from a chemical toilet which clams up the Grisworld’s drains. Festive lights prove a danger, with an unfortunate cat chewing through the cables and meeting a swift demise, but Clark’s attempts to create a white-bread family Christmas, just like the ones he remembers from his family’s 1959 home movies, eventually turns successful despite all mishaps along the way.

‘Take a look around we’re on the threshold of hell,’ remarks Clark Grisworld as he surveys the festive carnage; turkeys stay too long in the oven, dogs chase squirrels through the house and it’s so cold that Clark is left ‘freezing my baguettes off’; it’s a hard life out there for a suburban dad. The Griswold kids are played by a rotating troupe of actors, with The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis somehow getting the nod here, and a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the yuppie next door who gets continually blindsided by the Grisworld’s slapstick antics.

‘You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitro glycerine plant’ is a typically rude line here as an aged aunt is mocked; sure, some of the gags about Clark Grisworld’s rather leering embarrassment about dealing with a pretty lingerie assistant in a department story don’t pass the PC test, but they’re part of a generally self-deprecating tone about the frustrations of parenthood. But Clark Grisworld’s transformation is an effective one; he eventually lets go of the idea that his corporate bonus cheque is a vital element of his holiday, and settles for just being a put-upon dad doing his best. Christmas Vacation is the Fanny and Alexander of the John Hughes canon, a sincere, wry look back at Christmases past, and a showcase for the great comic talents of Chevy Chase.


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  1. Man I miss the days before PC took most of the fun out of movies. YES to Chevy Chase! YES to “dealing with pretty lingerie assistants in department stores”! YES to crude jokes and poor taste! C’mon mate, it’s Christmas!

    • I hear you, and commend your enthusiasm. There can be no naysayers! Comic genius; his cat in a box bit is great physical comedy. The poolside swimsuit striptease feels a little jammed in as a callback to previous flirtations, but on this festive occasion, I will allow it. This is a more sentimental film than the others, and Chase gets some moments that deepen his dad persona. A Vacation for All!

  2. I lol at your comment about this being the most sophisticated of the Vacation movies. It really is, (and what a low bar that is!). That being said, this movie has a very big heart and I think it is worthy of a watch every Christmas if possible. I love it every time I see it.

    • I had to do sone rapid research to figure out why this one clears the low bar, but it really does! The ‘sexy’ bit are clearly late additions to a generally warm and fuzzy remembrances of Christmas past. Much as I like these films, I get that they’re a random assemblage of gags, but this one really does have more than a bit of soil! Glad to hear it has other fans!

  3. I’m shocked at all these nopes! This is one of my favorites, and nearly made my “Thankful For” list last month.

    Every year I wait for a moment of holiday mayhem so I can quote Ellen:. “I don’t know what to say except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”

    • Finally! After years of me barking in the wilderness, fielding the slingshots and arrows of those who choose to deny the greatness of these films! I just rewatched this last night and it’s still a classic! Congratulations on your excellent taste in films! The rest can learn from your example!

        • It’s the most sophisticated of the Vacation movies, with genuine heart and a sense of both joy and sadness at the gap between what we aspire for at Christmas and what we get. I remembered a cruder, shallower movie, but it’s one of Hughes’ more surprising parables about parenthood. There’s a few sops to the franchise, but the core story is undeniably sincere. And it does have a useful health and safety content about how to put up Xmas lights…

  4. You’re right about Quaid. He’s all I remember from this. Don’t recall JLD being in it now at all. But then I think the only time I saw it was in the cinema when it came out.

    • You get extra bonus points for seeing Chevy Chase films in the cinema; you must have great taste, and that’s what makes YOU a top critic!

      JLD has not much to work on as Margo Chester, but she gives it her all; that’s twice she’s popped up unexpectedly in two days. What could this mean?

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