Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid star in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION, directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik for Warner Bros.

Christmas Vacation (1989, Jeremiah S. Chechik)

It’s telling how Christmas Vacation is probably John Hughes’s best film and no one noticed it when it came out. I mean, it’s got its problems–the introductory first half, where all the characters are established and Chevy Chase and company drive around that part of Wisconsin with the big mountains looking for a Christmas tree, is a complete mess. But once Christmas itself starts . . . the film’s solid gold.

The film, regardless of what section, works because of Chevy Chase. He’s not doing his doofus dad here. He’s doing his doofus dad with a nice amount of Fletch injected. It lets him have a little bit of edge and keeps him from being the butt of the jokes. Hughes recycles a lot from previous scripts (anyone else notice it’s basically Sixteen Candles at Christmas) and it’s entirely competent. In a lot of ways–the quality of jokes–it doesn’t even seem like him. The absence of black people (in Chicago, so Christopher Nolan’s Chicago is the same as John Hughes’s apparently) is visible until the end, when the one black actor is the film’s only real authority figure….

Anyway.

It’s perfectly cast–William Hickey and Mae Questel kind of walk away with it in terms of laughs, but John Randolph’s so good in it, in his one big scene, I teared up.

The production values–even with the bad Cali inserts–are good; Chechik can direct and Angelo Badalamenti’s score is way too classy.

It really is a modern classic.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik; written by John Hughes; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Angelo Badalamenti; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Hughes and Tom Jacobson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold), Johnny Galecki (Rusty Griswold), John Randolph (Clark Wilhelm Griswold Sr.), Diane Ladd (Nora Griswold), E.G. Marshall (Art Smith), Doris Roberts (Frances Smith), Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie), Miriam Flynn (Catherine), Cody Burger (Rocky), Ellen Hamilton Latzen (Ruby Sue), William Hickey (Uncle Lewis), Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany), Sam McMurray (Bill), Nicholas Guest (Todd Chester), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Margo Chester), Brian Doyle-Murray (Mr. Frank Shirley) and Natalia Nogulich (Mrs. Helen Shirley).

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