Christmas in July: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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There’s an old Dick Powell movie called “Christmas In July.” But Tropic Cinema has cribbed that title for its mid-year celebration of the Yuletide holiday in conjunction with Twisted Tinsel, 22&Co, Firefly and other local partners.

The movie of choice: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

National Lampoon was a humor magazine (1970 to 1998) that was a spinoff from the Harvard Lampoon. I knew some of its regular contributors – Brian McConnachie, Tony Hendra, et al. Also I knew co-founder Matty Simmons.

Projects using the “National Lampoon” brand name continue to this day. Among its notable movies are “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) and those National Lampoon “Vacation” movies (1983, 1985, 1989, 1997, 2003, and 2015).

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” – third in the “Vacation” series — stars Chevy Chase. My friend Matty was the movie’s producer.

You remember the story: The Griswold family (Chevy Chase, Beverley D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki) share the holidays with their parents and a cousin’s rambunctious brood. Highlights include lighting up the outside of the house with enough twinkle lights to short out the neighborhood, electrocuting the family cat, burning down the tree, and not getting an expected Christmas bonus.

As Variety described it, “”Solid family fare with plenty of yucks, ‘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.”

In addition to Chevy Chase’s everyman loser, a jerk named Clark Griswold, other standouts in the cast include Randy Quaid as uninvited Cousin Eddie, E.G. Marshall and Doris Roberts as Ellen’s parents, John Randolph and Diane Ladd as Clark’s parents, William Hickey as Clark’s grouchy uncle, Brian Doyle-Murray as Clark’s tightwad boss, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicolas Guest as the Griswold’s angry neighbors.

Initially, Chris Columbus was slated to direct “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” but dropped out due to a personality clash with Chevy Chase. Jeremiah S. Chechik stepped in to help the film. Chechik’s other films include “Benny & Joon,” “Diabolique,” and “The Avengers.” Turns out, “The Avengers” (based on the British TV show, not the Marvel superheroes movies) got him a nominated for a 1998 Razzie as Worst Director. But “Christmas Vacation” has become a Christmas classic.

The script was penned by John Hughes, based on his short story “Christmas ’59,” which was published in the December 1980 issue of National Lampoon. Hughes went on to give us such movies as “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Home Alone.”

Hughes wrote the first three “Vacation” films, but wasn’t enamored with the experience. “I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on,” he said. “But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles.”

As for Chevy Chase, he looks back fondly on the series of “Vacation” films. “It makes me feel like Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” he says of becoming a part of that annual tradition. “It’s beautifully acted and written. It really gets to my heart and not a lot of things do. I really do love that movie.”

Do I love “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? What do you think? I actually named my dog Griswold.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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