National Lampoons Vacation (1983) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Vacation

Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: John Hughes (screenplay), John Hughes (short story “Vacation ’58”)
Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley, John Candy

The Griswalds take to the road on a trip across America to reach Wally World Theme Park. Seems like a pretty straight forward trip, right?

It has been 35 years since National Lampoons Vacation hit our cinema screens and I personally cannot think of better comedy for it’s time. You have Harold Ramis Directing who would go on the following year to become a household name as Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis also co-wrote) in Ghostbusters. The amazing writing talents of John Hughes. Some might say this film was the catalyst to Hughes amazing career in film, particularly in the 1980’s and an amazing cast of Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley and an amazing cameo by the late John Candy.

With all of the Vacation films it opens with the unforgettable “Holiday Road” by former Fleetwood Mac singer Lindsey Buckingham. This is probably the first film I had seen Eugene Levy in who would go on to play Jim’s Dad in “American Pie”. Here he plays a Car Salesman trying and succeeding in getting Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) to purchase a very unfashionable sports wagon with an awful sewage green colour and walnut panelling. Seriously I wouldn’t have taken that for free. Incidentally the car was specifically made for this film, which is pretty obviously when you think about it because this car would not sell if it was released to the public.

Clark has it all planned out on where they have to be on what day and at what time. The guy’s itinerary is precise and meticulous and when asked by his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) why they couldn’t just take a flight out to the theme park, Clark explains with his work hours he feels he is missing out on spending time with his family. I totally get that and I’m glad he didn’t listen to Ellen or we wouldn’t be in for a very funny couple of hours with The Griswolds. Clark as the ever optimistic Dad, Ellen as the more realistic Mum and the Kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) It’s interesting to note that Rusty was to play the younger child originally but when Anthony Michael Hall took a growth spurt during production (it’s evident at the closing scenes, where he is towering over D’Angelo at this point) the film makers decided to make Rusty the older brother.

The chemistry between Chase, D’Angelo, Michael Hall and Barron is tight and very funny. They almost function like a real family convincingly and it clearly worked for Chase and D’Angelo to go on a few times more as Husband and Wife in European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation, popping up on Family Guy, Hotel Hell Vacation (Video short) and the more recent Vacation (2015) Michael Hall and Barron would go on to do other projects during this time and it’s fair to say and in particular that Michael Hall catapulted to stardom throughout the early to mid eighties thanks to his performance as Rusty Griswold. More notably in more John Hughes films.

Supporting them is an ensemble of some of the best comedy actors from the likes of Saturday Night Live and SCTV of the time in Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley, John Candy, Randy Quaid and Imogene Coca. I don’t think any of the supporting cast are wasted in anyway and all leave their mark to an extent and mostly have the funniest lines in the film. Interesting the original finale to the film didn’t go down to well with a test audience leaving the film in a bit of a crisis. Cue John Candy for a whopping $1 Million performing as a security guard at Wally World and you have a brilliant final scenes with a character Candy performed with on stage.

Overall, National Lampoons Vacation for me kick started the whole comedy road movie genre (well in my lifetime anyway) and it’s fair to say that not many films have surpassed this original (Dumb and Dumber is of course up there) and apart from the fashion the film hasn’t aged too badly. Chevy Chase as Clark carries the movie from start to finish and it is mostly from his perspective as there aren’t too many scenes he isn’t in. If you haven’t seen any of the National Lampoon films I would suggest starting with the original and the best. The other films, previously mentioned are hit and miss and the casting of Rusty and Audrey in the other movies didn’t quite hit the mark as Michael Hall and Barron did in this one. I recommend watching National Lampoons Vacation as I feel you will enjoy it.

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