National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) dir. Harold Ramis
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Christie Brinkley
By Alan Bacchus
Vacation was always one of my favourite comedies growing up a child, and though I had seen snippets of the film on television numerous times between 1983 and today, I don’t know if I ever watched the whole movie through again. Perhaps Ii did, but certainly not the original uncut version, the version not ‘edited-for-television’, the version with pot, boobs, sex and other naughty 80’s behaviour. It holds up marvellously, not because of these fun elements, but the genius of Chevy Chase, comedian extraordinaire, and arguably, at the time, the best comedian working in the movies (Eddie Murphy runs a close second maybe?).
It’s a fun, rambunctious, politically incorrect script without the sappy family-friendly sentimentality or lessons of morality which would be shoehorned into a modern-day version of this story. Clark Griswald (Chase) is a typical suburban dad, living in a suburb of Chicago, a lovely girl-next-door pretty wife, and two perky teenaged kids. It only takes one scene or two for director Ramis and writer John Hughes to paint a clear picture of Clark - his encounter with the slimy used case salesman typifies his false cocksure attitude, specifically his desperate need to project his role as the confident patriarch to his son. This character is remarkably consistent throughout - not matter how absurd the gags get, Chevy Chase never betrays the goals and desires of his character.
After he gets sucked into buying a shitty lemon for a car, and even despite protests from his kids in choosing the Disney-disguised Wally World instead of Hawaii, they embark on a road trip comprised of one disaster after another. Smaller moments of pathetic hilarity such as Clark’s confusion about where the gas tank is located on his car to the bigger set pieces like his visit to wife’s brother in-law it's a goldmine of comedy every step of the way. It’s this trip which helped give reason to create three sequels. Cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid, is the only doofus that could trump Clark’s doofusness. Together they make a classic comic duo.
Some gags are shamelessly low brow specifically when Aunt Edna’s dog urinates on the sandwiches. The best moments highlight Chevy Chase's brilliant comic timing and skills with physical humour. As mentioned, the gas pumping is great, same with the vibrating bed scene. From the way his picks at the change before placing it in the machine to the pitch change in his voice when the bed starts shaking really fast as well as his sunstroked journey across the Arizona desert to find a gas station, Chevy can make his big lanky frame consistently hilarious.
Anthony Michael Hall turns in a great supporting performance as Rusty who is more mature than his Dad, but conscious of his vulnerability and insecurity as a father figure. Smaller cameos such as Eugene Levy as the car salesman, John Candy as the pathetic Wally World attendant and Eddie Bracken as the spitting image of Walt Disney are perfectly peppered throughout.
The Warner Bros Blu-ray of course, features the original uncut version reinstating rating R moments such as Beverly D’Angelo’s token 1980’s boob shot in the shower, the nudie magazines which Rusty and his cousin bond over as well as the pot Audrey and Cousin Vicki (played by Jane Krakowski!) smoke at Cousin Eddie’s house.
Oh yeah Christine Brinkley is still smoking hot driving that Ferrari. It makes a worthy dose of nostalgia and a good addition to one’s Blu-Ray collection.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is available on Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video