The National Lampoon’s Vacation series is one of the greatest achievements in John Hughes’ legendary career. People will dispute that and tell you that Home Alone was better or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. They may even mention The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink. While all of those (and many more films that he was involved with) are terrific films, the fact that he was able to pump out the bulk of the Vacation series while making all of those other films is a great feat. The Griswold family clearly held a special place in his heart and he enjoyed revisiting the characters and their antics. Today, we will take a look at each of the four films in the series starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, and Randy Quaid. The first three of the four film series took place in the 1980s and a fourth was made in 1997.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
The Griswold family is just a normal American family from Chicago who decide to make a cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park; however the trip that they so carefully planned goes awry and becomes more difficult than they anticipated. That’s the pitch for this comedy from Harold Ramis, who uses the screenplay written by John Hughes. Although this movie is funny and gets the franchise off to a great start, it gets more credit than it deserves. I’ve heard people call it the funniest movie of the ‘80s. Maybe I’ve seen it too many times and I already know what’s about to happen, but I don’t laugh every time I watch this movie anymore. That’s not the case with Airplane or another movie that will be discussed later. It is a good road trip movie, though, and the performances by everyone are spot on, particularly Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid. Chase is so great at physical comedy and using subtle movements to not only advance the story, but to do so hilariously. This movie is fun and was enough to warrant a sequel, but it wasn’t the best in the series.
European Vacation (1985)
Here is the premise of European Vacation: When the Griswolds win a trip to Europe in this film they run into all types of trouble in many different countries. Although Hughes again writes the screenplay, this film seems like it came from another group of people. The tone is way off and the kids that play Rusty and Audrey are not good at all. They are easily the worst of the rotating cast of Rustys and Audreys. Amy Heckerling gets directorial credit for this film, that lacks the same humor that the other three efforts in the series bring. The movie isn’t as subtle and instead relies on recurring gags, such as hitting the same man on a bicycle over and over. Most would agree this is the worst and just flat out least funny of the series, which should have been doomed if not for the next film that was an instant classic.
Christmas Vacation (1989)
No doubt, the best in the series was Christmas Vacation released in 1989. This iteration of the saga was written by Hughes and directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, and found the Griswold family hosting a huge holiday bash that obviously turns into a disaster. From the hike into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree all the way until the police bust into the house telling everyone to freeze. “May we blink?” This film is in my top five favorite comedies of all time. It gets yanked out of the drawer every holiday season around my house and the whole family gathers around to repeat their favorite quote or catch some small quirk that they had never caught before. This is a classic comedy and a classic holiday movie that shouldn’t be missed. “You serious, Clark?”
Vegas Vacation was the first film in the series not written by John Hughes. Instead, the screenplay was written by Elisa Bell and the film was directed by Stephen Kessler. All the major players, except Rusty and Audrey of course, returned. That was the major factor in the success of this film. Chevy Chase once again embraced the role of Clark W. Griswold, Beverly D’Angelo was terrific as the Wayne Newton obsessed Ellen, and Randy Quaid shows up as Cousin Eddie to crash the family’s Vegas trip. Clark gets addicted to blackjack and almost loses the family fortune; meanwhile Rusty and Audrey are finding that Vegas may have something to offer that they didn’t expect. The film is funny at times; however it also has more heart and emotion than any of the previous films in the series. It wasn’t a total dud that most expected after the series took nearly a decade off, yet it wasn’t good enough to revitalize it back to life.
So what do you think? What was your favorite of the Vacation franchise? All of the films had different children and little continuity, but no one seemed to care because in the end, most of the time the gags were funny and there are quotable and memorable lines throughout all four films thanks to John Hughes’ writing (and influence on Vegas Vacation) and Chevy Chase’s career defining performances.
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