Welcome to today’s show, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). This movie is so funny and accurate I almost can’t stand it. This movie was written by John Hughes but he turned the directing over Jeremiah S. Chechik. We only have a couple of show veterans and a lot of new actors. I am only going to cover about half the people in this film to keep it from being a hour long. Sorry about that.
Brian Doyle-Murray played the uncaring boss Frank Shirley. Brian was covered in Episode 96 – Scrooged (1988).
E.G. Marshall played Art, Ellen’s father. Marshall was covered in Episode 68 – The Buccaneer (1958).
Chevy Chase played the role of Clark W. Griswold. Chase was born in 1943 in New York City. Chase graduated from Bard College with a BA in English in 1967. Chase worked as a comedian and did some movie work. He also did the usual odd jobs such as cab driver, truck driver, messenger, busboy, and theater usher.
Chase met future SNL producer Lorne Michaels while waiting in line to see a Monty Python movie. He signed a one-year writer’s contract and just became a part of the cast. He was actually the first person to say “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” on the show. Chase remained on SNL from its debut to the end of the 1976 season.
Chevy Chase is up and down to me when it comes to movies. He has made some of the most iconic movies of our generation and some real stinkers. I guess he is edgy. One movie of his that I like is Foul Pay (1978). He teamed up with Goldie Hawn as a bumbling detective trying to save the pope while they are being chased by a midget and an albino. Is that the plot of a Dan Brown novel? Burgess Meredith is quite good in this in his supporting role.
Of course, this was followed by Caddyshack (1980) and Chevy was very good, as was everyone in this amazing movie. Chase teamed with Hawn again as her ex-husband in Seems Like Old Times (1980). Next, there was Under the Rainbow (1981), a spy caper set during the filming of the Wizard of Oz (1939) in a hotel with royals, Nazi assassins, secret agents, tourists, and munchkins from the movie. Then he was in a fun movie, Deal of the Century (1983) with Sigourney Weaver and Gregory Hines.
Then it all changed. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and its’ sequels National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Vegas Vacation (1997), and Vacation (2015) came out and a generation of movie watchers had lines they can recite.
Next, there are two beloved movies that I don’t care for, Fletch (1985) and Fletch Lives (1989). Ackroyd dragged him down in Spies Like Us (1985). But he bounced back with the buddy film ¡Three Amigos! (1986). His next good film was Funny Farm (1988). We have to knock him out.
This was followed by a series of duds. I’ll reach back and grab Modern Problems (1981) and add it to Caddyshack II (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Cops and Robbersons (1994), Man of the House (1995), and Snow Day (2000).
But Chase popped back with the major television hit “Community” 2009-2014. He has been in some better movies as well such as Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015), and the previously mentioned Vacation (2015). Chase is still active.
Beverly D’Angelo was Ellen Griswold. She was born in Ohio in 1951. Beverly was trained in art and started working for Hanna-Barbera Productions. She left this job to pursue a rock and roll career in Canada. Eventually, she ended up in a rock version of Hamlet. She went to Broadway with a souped-up version of the play. The play didn’t run long, but it lasted long enough for Beverly to get noticed by Hollywood.
Beverly started with small roles in films like Annie Hall (1977) and The Sentinel (1977). She received a bit of attention for the Clint Eastwood ape fest, Every Which Way But Loose (1978). Next, there was a movie version of the Broadway musical Hair (1979) and the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) both of which allowed her to highlight her considerable vocal talent. Beverly had a long string of comedies including Paternity (1981) with former Florida State football player Burt Reynolds. Of course, this was followed by National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) which I must admit I haven’t seen yet, and Vegas Vacation (1997). Beverly was amazing in American History X (1998) as a single mother caught between the racism of her son and her Jewish boyfriend played by Elliott Gould. She showed up on the HBO series Entourage “2005-2011” as a hard as nails agent Barbara Miller. Finally, she reprised her Griswold role in Vacation (2015). Beverly is working on television and still making movies.
Randy Quaid plays Cousin Eddie Johnson. Quaid was born in Texas in 1950. He became interested in acting in high school. He began studying acting at the University of Houston. One of his teachers sent him to audition for Peter Bogdanovich. This lead to him being cast in The Last Picture Show (1971). He had small parts in films like What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), and Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973) until he was cast in The Last Detail (1973), where Quaid won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar to go with Jack Nicholson’s Best Actor Oscar. Into the late 1970s, he continued to make movies such as the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976), western film The Missouri Breaks (1976), police buddy film The Choirboys (1977), and as a very credible American prisoner in a Turkish jail in Midnight Express (1978). Another interesting movie was The Long Riders (1980). The film had four sets of real brothers playing outlaw brothers. They were David Carradine as Cole Younger, Keith Carradine as Jim Younger, Robert Carradine as Bob Younger, James Keach as Jesse James, Stacy Keach as Frank James, Christopher Guest as Charlie Ford, Nicholas Guest, who plays Todd in today’s movie as Bob Ford, Dennis Quaid as Ed Miller, and Randy Quaid as Clell Miller. Harry Carry, Jr. is in the film to give a real cowboy cred. Of course, the first three actors mentioned are the children of John Carradine.
Quaid really hit the big time playing cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), and Vegas Vacation (1997). Some of his other great roles include Caddyshack II (1988), Days of Thunder (1990), Bye Bye Love (1995), Kingpin (1996), Independence Day (1996), and Brokeback Mountain (2005). Although he has had some legal problems, he continues to work.
Other actors, I’m not talking about because this would go on forever
Juliette Lewis Audrey
Johnny Galecki Rusty
John Randolph Clark, Sr.
Diane Ladd Nora
Doris Roberts Francis
William Hickey Lewis
Nicholas Guest Todd Chester
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Margo Chester
Mae Questel Bethany who was the voice of Betty Boop.
The credits roll with an animated Santa trying to deliver toys to the Griswold family and having a hard time doing so. Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) are singing Christmas carols in the front seat of the car while Rusty (Johnny Galecki) and Audrey (Juliette Lewis) are making death faces in the back. They are trying to find a Christmas tree. Clark gets into a road rage incident with a truck full of rednecks. It ends with the Griswold car driving under a log truck. Clark pulls out and is launched off a snow bank.
Instead of buying a tree at a lot, the family hikes through the snow to find the perfect Christmas tree in the wild. Finally, Clark sees the perfect tree, bathed in golden light. Of course, Clark has forgotten to bring a saw. At last, they have the giant tree attached to their car and are heading home.
Back in Chicago, the giant tree is laying in the front yard. Yuppie neighbors Todd (Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) ask about the size of the tree and Clark tells them he can stick it up their butt. Once the tree is stuffed into the house, Ellen doesn’t believe they can get a star on top because it’s crammed against the ceiling. When Clark cuts the rope on the tree it explodes breaking a couple of windows. In bed, he still has sap on his hands. Ellen tells Clark that her family is coming. Clark is calm.
Clark is at work and the talk turns to the expected Christmas bonus. He plans on having a pool installed in the backyard. The president of the company, Frank Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray) comes by and doesn’t even know Clark’s name. Bastard!
Later the Griswold family is downtown shopping at a department store. Clark is overcome by the lingerie sales lady. He shamelessly starts hitting on her and his son Rusty busts him.
With It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) playing on tv, Ellen and Clark’s parents arrive and they are fighting before they get inside. Clark, Sr. (John Randolph) and Nora (Diane Ladd) are clearly Clark’s parents and Francis (Doris Roberts) and Art (E.G. Marshall) are Ellen’s parent’s. Lots of awkward hugs, presents, and family drama. Clark and Rusty escape the drama by putting up lights outside. Todd and Margo hope for Clark’s death as he climbs a giant ladder. This has to be a plot concocted by wives. Send your husband out in the coldest, wettest, iciest part of the year to climb on a ladder. I wonder what the annual number of husband that buy the farm between Thanksgiving and Christmas putting up lights. I guess you could do what they do in Brownsville, Texas and just leave them hanging all year.
As the fathers sleep in front of the tv, Clark adds lights to house, until he eventually falls. Audrey is throwing a fit because she has to share a bed with her brother so the grandparents can stay at the house. Clark continues to work on the roof as night falls. Eventually, he falls too, but not before launching a giant icicle through Todd and Margo’s window, killing the stereo. Clark drags the extended family into the yard to turn on the lights. After a drum roll, the lights fail to come on. Mother-in-law Francis shames Clark in front of his family. Clark works through the night looking for the cause of the light failure.
The next day Clark climbs into the attic to hid a present. Francis shuts the ladder trapping Clark. Everyone leaves the house. Clark spends the day trying to stay warm and going slowly crazy. Clark gets misty watching old family movies. Finally, the family returns and Ellen finds Clark.
That night, Clark keeps working on the lights. Finally, Ellen asks if the cords are plugged in, as only a wife can do. In the house, Nora flips a switch and the lights come on. Margo and Todd are blinded as the city blacks out and the nuclear power plant goes into heavy production. Nora turns the switch off leaving the mystery intact. Ellen finally lets Clark have his glory by turning on the switch. In all the glory of the light, Clark is shocked when Ellen’s cousin Eddie (Randy Quad), wife Catherine (Miriam Flynn), two kids, and a Rottweiler named Snots shows up in a dilapidated RV. Later Clark catches Snots drinking the Christmas tree water. He thinks it will dry the tree out but Eddie is not concerned. They are drinking eggnog out of Wally World cups.
Clark drops off a present for Mr. Shirley. He is really mean. Now, as you know from the first vacation film, Clark makes a living developing chemical additives. When the family decides to go sledding, he coats the bottom of his with a special Teflon type spray. Clark picks up so much speed that the bottom of the sled catches on fire as he sails off into the distance. Eddie doesn’t want to go too fast because the Veteran’s Administration replaced the metal plate in his head with a plastic one.
Clark is at work thinking about his pool. Clark tells his friend that it is his last day before the holidays. Clark asks about the bonus and his friend thinks he has gotten it but Clark has not.
Similar to the first Vacation film Clark has a sexual daydream. He is starring out the window to where his pool is to be built and the girl from the department stores comes and does a striptease. It seems Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) clipped a little from this movie. His daydream is interrupted by Eddie’s daughter because she thinks he is Santa Claus. She and her brother are worried that Santa is not coming this year because he didn’t come last year. He tells her that Santa is definitely coming to see them.
It’s a madhouse in the morning as the family’s fight. Clark sees Eddie in a mini-robe draining the toilet of the RV into the sewer drain. Eddie calmly says “shitters full.” Clark tells Ellen that it’s a storm sewer and that anyone that lights a match by it will be sorry. Todd is horrified by the smell and the act.
Clark and Eddie go shopping and Eddie lets on that he is broke and has lost the house and now lives in the RV. They sent all their money to a tv preacher that was screwing a hockey player. He loads the cart will food for Snots. Clark says that he and Ellen will give the kids a good Christmas.
On Christmas Eve Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) and Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) show up. Bethany is senile. Rusty brings one of Bethany and Lewis’ presents back and apparently, she has packed the cat. They prepare a nice dinner for everyone. They ask Bethany to say the blessing. She gets confused and recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Eddie stands and puts his hand over his heart because he is good US veteran. Clark cuts the turkey and it is a dried hulk. Catherine starts crying saying she knew they put it in too early. The family eats the crackling turkey. Kind of reminded me of these pork skin cracklings my mother would make. Tasty as hell, but you could break a tooth. I’m pretty sure they were cholesterol free.
Snots throws up under the table, having already eaten a bag of trash. Bethany’s cat starts chewing on the Christmas tree wires. When Clark plugs in the tree, the cat is electrocuted. After dinner Lewis lights a cigar and the tree is burned to a crisp and he is on fire. Clark is mad and a delivery man comes to the door with the coveted Christmas bonus. When he opens the envelope, it is a one-year membership in the jelly of the month club. Clark says he wanted his boss brought over, wrapped in a bow, so he can tell him off to his face. He goes apeshit.
Eddie heads out in the RV and Clark gets his chainsaw out. He cuts a tree in his yard and it crashes through Margo and Todd’s window. Later Clark dresses as Santa. He uses the chainsaw to fix a loose stair post in the house before going down to put presents under the tree. Bethany hears a squeaking sound. Clark looks into the tree and squirrel jumps out. They treat the squirrel like it’s a wolverine. Finally, Snots gets after it and destroys the house in the process.
Margo goes over to stand up to Clark. She is attacked by the squirrel and then the dog. When she gets home she hits Todd. When the visitors try to leave, Clark makes them stay for an old fashion Christmas. Eddie’s RV is seen driving away from a mansion.
Clark Sr. calms his son down and the entire group settles down for the reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” Eddie’s RV pulls into the driveway. Clark sees Eddie coming with Mr. Shirley tied and chained wearing a large red bow. Mission oriented. Back at the mansion, Mr. Shirley’s wife calls the police. Clark releases his boss. The boss fires him and tells Eddie he is going to jail. Seeing the faces, Mr. Shirley has a change of heart. He says Clark will have a 20% increase over last year’s bonus. The police surround the house as happiness ensues inside. SWAT teams come down the roof and break into Margo and Todd’s house for better shooting positions. They then crash through the windows and doors of the Griswold house.
The police bring in Mrs. Shirley. When she finds out about the bonus cuts she calls her husband low. The police officer says he would beat him if he had a rubber hose. Mr. Shirley says he has changed his mind.
Eddie and Catherine’s children see a light in the sky and run out to look for Santa. The entire group goes into the front yard and Clark shows them the Christmas star. Lewis says it’s a light on the sewer treatment plant just before he throws a match into the sewer drain.
The drain explodes knocking everyone down and sending the plastic Santa and reindeer team flying through the sky like a comet. Bethany thinks it’s the 4th of July and sings the National Anthem. The police and SWAT join in. Eddie salutes because he is a veteran. Clark looks up and says “I did it.”
World-Famous Short Summary – Chicago police use excessive force. See also The Blues Brothers (1980)
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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
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