National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jeremiah Chechik|
|Produced by||John Hughes
|Written by||John Hughes|
|Music by||Angelo Badalamenti|
|Cinematography||Thomas E. Ackerman|
|Edited by||Jerry Greenberg
Michael A. Stevenson
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$71.3 million|
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a 1989 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. It is the third installment in National Lampoon's Vacation film series, and was written by John Hughes, based on his short story in National Lampoon magazine, "Christmas '59". The film stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and Randy Quaid, with Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as the Griswold children Audrey and Rusty, respectively.
Since its release in 1989, Christmas Vacation has often been labeled as a modern Christmas classic. It is also the only sequel in the Vacation series to have spawned its own direct sequel: a 2003 made-for-TV release entitled National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure.
The film has achieved five home video releases: VHS and Laserdisc in early 1990, a bare bones DVD in 1997, and a "Special Edition" DVD in 2003. In 2009, the film was released as an "Ultimate Collector's Edition." At the same time of this release, it was also released on a simple Blu-ray/DVD combo. A steelbook Blu-ray was released in 2015.
With Christmas only a few weeks away, Chicago resident Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides it is time to get a Christmas tree. He gathers his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and drives out to the country where he picks out a huge tree. Realizing too late that they didn't bring any tools to cut the tree down, they are forced to uproot it instead, before driving home with the tree strapped to the roof of their car.
Soon after, both Clark's and Ellen's parents arrive to spend Christmas, but their bickering quickly begins to annoy the family. Clark, however, maintains a positive attitude, determined to have a "good old-fashioned family Christmas." He covers the house's entire exterior with 25,000 twinkle lights, which fail to work at first, as he has accidentally wired them through his garage's light switch. When they finally come on, they temporarily cause a city-wide power shortage (forcing the power company to resort to nuclear generators for backup power) and create chaos for Clark's snobby yuppie neighbors, Todd (Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). While standing on the front lawn admiring the lights, Clark is shocked to see Ellen's cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and her dense but bighearted husband Eddie (Randy Quaid), as they arrive unannounced with their children, Rocky and Ruby Sue, and their Rottweiler Dog Snots. Eddie later admits that they are living in the RV they drove to reach Chicago, as he is broke and has been forced to sell his home. Clark offers to buy gifts for Eddie's kids, so they can still enjoy a wonderful Christmas.
With Christmas approaching quicker than ever, Clark begins to wonder why his boss, Frank Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), has not given him his yearly bonus, which he desperately needs to replace an advance payment he has made to install a swimming pool. After a disastrous Christmas Eve dinner, he finally receives an envelope from a company messenger, who had overlooked it the day before. Instead of the presumed bonus, the envelope contains a free year's membership for the Jelly of the Month Club. This prompts Clark to snap and go into a tirade about Frank, and out of anger, requests that he be delivered to the house so Clark can insult him to his face.
Eddie takes the request literally, drives to Frank's mansion, and forcibly brings him back to the house, to Clark's obvious surprise. This doesn't stop him from confronting Frank about the cancellation of the employees' Christmas bonuses. Meanwhile, Frank's wife, Helen, calls the police, and a SWAT team storms the Griswold house and holds everyone at gunpoint. Frank decides not to press charges and explains the situation to his wife and the authorities, who both scold him for his decision to scrap the bonuses, and decides to reinstate them (with Clark getting an add-on of 20% of his salary).
Afterwards, the family head outside, with Rocky and Ruby Sue believing they see Santa Claus in the distance. Clark tells them it's actually the Christmas Star and that he finally realizes what the holiday means to him. But Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) says the light is coming from the sewage treatment plant; reminding Clark of an earlier incident where Eddie had been dumping his sewage into a storm drain. But before he can stop him, Uncle Lewis tosses a match he had used to light his cigar aside, triggering an explosion sending him flying into the family. Lewis' wife Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel), who is incredibly senile, proceeds to sing the "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the whole family and the SWAT officers join in, gazing at Clark's Santa Claus and reindeer set (which was also destroyed in the blast), still burning and flying into the distance. The entire Griswold family, the Shirleys and the SWAT team members then celebrate inside the house, while Clark and Ellen happily share a Christmas kiss. After Ellen goes inside, Clark looks at the sky, happily smiling toward the stars and saying: "I did it."
- Chevy Chase as Clark W. "Sparky" Griswold, Jr; an eccentrically optimistic, caring, repressed, unfortunate, naive, short-tempered but well-intentioned family man, who always wants his family to have the perfect vacation, but it never turns out the way he wished it would be.
- Beverly D'Angelo as Ellen Smith Griswold; Clark's loving and devoted wife and mother to Rusty and Audrey.
- Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie; Clark's cousin-in-law
- Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold; Clark's daughter
- Johnny Galecki as Rusty "Russ" Griswold; Clark's son
- John Randolph as Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Sr; Clark's father
- Diane Ladd as Nora Griswold; Clark's mother
- E. G. Marshall as Arthur "Art" Smith; Ellen's father
- Doris Roberts as Frances Smith; Ellen's mother
- Miriam Flynn as Cousin Catherine
- Cody Burger as Cousin Rocky
- Ellen Hamilton Latzen as Cousin Ruby Sue; Eddie & Catherine's daughter
- William Hickey as Uncle Lewis
- Mae Questel as Aunt Bethany; Lewis' incredibly senile wife
- Sam McMurray as Bill; Clark's colleague
- Nicholas Guest as Todd Chester
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester
- Brian Doyle-Murray as Frank Shirley
- Natalia Nogulich as Helen Shirley
- Nicolette Scorsese as Mary, the lingerie counter clerk
- Devin Bailey as Clark Griswold, Jr. (age 9)
- Jeremy Roberts as Cop
- Alexander Folk as Cop #1
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation originated from a short story by writer John Hughes called "Christmas '59," which was published in the December 1980 issue of National Lampoon magazine. "The studio came to me and begged for another one, and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on," said Hughes. "But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles."
Principal photography began on March 27, 1989 in Summit County, Colorado, with footage shot in Silverthorne, Breckenridge, and Frisco. From there the production moved to Warner Bros. Studio Facilities in Burbank, California, where the set of the Griswold family's house is located.
The musical score for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was composed by Angelo Badalamenti. It is the only installment of the Vacation film series not to include Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road". In its place is a song entitled "Christmas Vacation" that was written for the movie by the husband-wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and performed by Mavis Staples of The Staple Singers fame. The song was covered in 2007 by High School Musical star Monique Coleman for the 2007 Christmas album Disney Channel Holiday.
Despite several popular songs being present in the film, no official soundtrack album was released. In 1999, a bootleg copy containing music featured in the film along with select cuts of dialogue dubbed as the "10th Anniversary Limited Edition" began to appear on Internet auction sites with the claim that Warner Bros. and RedDotNet had pressed 20,000 CDs for Six Flags Magic Mountain employees to sell to customers entering the park. However, while the discs were individually numbered out of 20,000, only 7,000 were sold as a part of an on demand production printed at gift shop kiosks within the park. Forums on movie music sites such as SoundtrackCollector later declared the disc to be a bootleg due to its inaccuracies. For instance, the cut "Christmas Vacation Medley" (claiming to be the work of composer Angelo Badalamenti) is really a track called "Christmas at Carnegie Hall" from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York by composer John Williams and does not actually contain any of Badalamenti's Christmas Vacation score.
The movie debuted at #2 at the box-office while grossing $11,750,203 during the opening weekend, behind Back to the Future Part II. The movie eventually topped the box-office charts in its third week of release and remained #1 the following weekend. It went on to gross a total of $71,319,546 in the United States while showing in movie theaters.
At the time of the film's release, the film received mixed to positive reviews; however, over time, many have cited it as a Christmas classic. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 64% of 36 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2 out of 10. The site's consensus reads, "While Christmas Vacation may not be the most disciplined comedy, it's got enough laughs and good cheer to make for a solid seasonal treat."
Entertainment magazine Variety responded positively to the film stating, "Solid family fare with plenty of yocks, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is Chevy Chase and brood doing what they do best. Despite the title, which links it to previous pics in the rambling Vacation series, this third entry is firmly rooted at the Griswold family homestead, where Clark Griswold (Chase) is engaged in a typical over-reaching attempt to give his family a perfect, old-fashioned Christmas." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave the film a positive review explaining that "it will prove pater-familiar to fans of the 1983 original and the European Vacation sequel. Only it's a bit more whimsical."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a mediocre review explaining that the "third look at the quintessentially middle-American Griswold family, led by Clark and the very patient Ellen is only a weary shadow of the original National Lampoon's Vacation." Maslin went on to say that "the best thing the new film does is to bring back Cousin Eddie, the wily, scene-stealing slob whose disgusting habits are a source of considerable amusement." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars saying, "The movie is curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work."
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