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National Lampoon’s European Vacation

July 26, 1985

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION is one of the Summer of 1985 movies I actually did see in the theater. I was young and I’m sure I thought it was funny enough at the time, but I doubt I ever rewatched it before now, and I did not feel any nostalgia for it.

While the first VACATION was directed by Harold Ramis, this one was Amy Heckerling, following FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY. She occasionally brings what probly were considered “MTV style” flourishes to montages and stuff, but is fairly anonymous. John Hughes returned as writer/producer, but for the first one he’d been able to adapt a short story he’d already written for National Lampoon. This one had no such basis, so he had to bring in a serious, heavy hitter, not fuckin around superstar pinch hitter of a co-writer to carry his dead weight and turn this into something truly special. But that person must’ve been busy so he got Robert Klane, writer/director of the disco movie THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY (1978). Klane had previously been a novelist, but in 1970 adapted his book WHERE’S POPPA? into a movie, which led to writing some episodes of M*A*S*H, an unproduced GREASE sequel called GREASIER, the Summer of 1985 movie that I skipped THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE, etc.

Coming two years after VACATION had proven Chevy Chase could be a movie star, EUROPEAN VACATION does little to disprove the conventional wisdom that comedy sequels aren’t a good idea. And it has an extra obstacle in that Hughes stole Anthony Michael Hall for his other Summer of ’85 movie WEIRD SCIENCE. Jason Lively (before NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) takes on the role of Rusty Griswold, and Heckerling decided that if one kid was different then both should be, so the part of Audrey is now played by Dana Hill (The Two of Us). Also apparently they changed their last name from Griswold to Griswald? But only for this installment? That might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. That spelling is just not funny. It throws the whole thing out of wack. With an ‘a’? Are you fucking kidding me?

In this episode, we find The Griswalds with an ‘a’ as contestants on a silly game show called Pig in a Poke, where families compete together while wearing pig costumes. They win by accident – Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo, THE SENTINEL, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE) whines at Clark because they don’t know the answer, which is in fact Clark (as in Lewis &) – so they get an all expenses paid trip to Europe. Once again Hughes pokes fun at family dynamics and stresses during travel, but this time they’re visiting London, Paris, a West German village and Rome, rather than taking a road trip across America. And of course this also means humor about “ugly American” tourists annoying or amusing the locals.

I don’t think this movie is very funny, but it’s not entirely unfunny. Much of the humor is based around politeness, for example the over-politeness of a bicyclist (Eric Idle) who gets run over and mangled by Clark, and insists he shouldn’t feel bad about it. Or the family being delighted by what they think is a very friendly waiter because they don’t understand enough French to know that he thinks they’re morons and is making fun of them to their faces.

A pretty typical example of the broader style of humor here is that they visit Stonehenge, and as they’re leaving they obliviously back their car into it and it falls down like dominoes. They don’t even notice. I’m sure I loved that as a youth, but as an old now I laugh at Rusty asking “What the hell is this?” Visiting a world famous ancient wonder and just scoffing at it like it’s some boring bullshit. Or when Audrey says, “This must be where they sacrificed virgins,” and then, thinking about it: “God, I miss Jack.”

(William Zabka plays her asshole boyfriend back at home. He doesn’t give a shit about her, but she can’t think of anything else. She also brings him up while being served German sausage.)

It’s a PG-13 movie, which in those days didn’t mean it was trying to be less than R – it meant it was trying to be more than PG. So in many ways it’s a sex comedy. A major plot point involves Clark getting Ellen to make a sex tape with him, using his giant 1985 camcorder. He says he’ll erase the tape, but I think you can guess whether or not he follows through with that before a guy on the street steals the camera with the tape still in it. To me the big laugh that comes out of that subplot is not anything raunchy. It’s that the foreplay involves her teasing him by doing a number from Chicago, and when the tape has been stolen and she’s tearfully confiding in someone about her humiliation she can’t help but do little parts of the song again.

At times it seems like there’s a theme of male shittiness, starting with the game show. The host (John Astin, father of that kid from THE GOONIES) greets Ellen by kissing her on the mouth, and later does the same to Audrey for so long she has to physically pry herself away from him. This would seem random if I hadn’t been watching reruns of The Match Game lately. At least in the ‘70s the female contestants really did have to put up with the host kissing them. Here it’s clearly portrayed as a disgusting thing that people are too uncomfortable to acknowledge.

Also during the game, Clark – who the host refers to as “the king of the family” – and the father from the competing family (inexplicable Paul Bartel cameo) both ask their wife’s opinion and then immediately dismiss it. Clark, though, is rewarded for his pigheadedness when they accidentally win the big prize.

Jack definitely does not represent well for the males. He treats Audrey so bad that when each of the family members has a dream about what Europe will be like, hers is a stress dream about being force fed and turning fat. Her dad gets to do a SOUND OF MUSIC parody and she has to predict one of the dream deaths in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5.

Whatever interesting things they might be going for, though, are outnumbered by jokes such as “there is a montage where they try on different funny hats” or “there is a car chase and they scream and crash into a fountain.” I was pretty tired of it by the time it wrapped up.

The very existence of EUROPEAN VACATION is a pretty good reminder of what a huge comedy star Chase was at the time. FLETCH had still been playing in theaters at the end of July, and here he is with a new movie opening at #1. It’s not as good as FLETCH, not as well received, not as well remembered, and didn’t make as much money, either. So it was just a victory lap. Showing off, doing wheelies. Small ones. Kind of dumb ones. Not very cool ones. But wheelies, nonetheless.

NOTES:

Summer of 1985 connections:

The end credits are over a tongue-in-cheek montage about the greatness of America, mixing patriotic imagery (flags, Uncle Sam, national monuments) with, like, hot dogs, gridlock and roller derby. And they include a picture of Clint Eastwood on the poster for Summer of 1985’s PALE RIDER.

This is a different take on the “naive and/or horny American tourists try to have a fun time in Europe and get into some shit” genre than GOTCHA!.

Pop culture:

Rusty and Audrey are teens, so they like the rock ’n roll. I noticed Rolling Stones and Stray Cats pins, and a Gumby. Rusty wears a hilariously only-in-the-‘80s Duran Duran painters cap with, like… a tail on the back? A cape? I don’t know what it would be called. But it’s impressive. (Related: “Some Like It Hot” by Duran Duran spinoff group Power Station plays in the cool dance club that Rusty dreams about.)

Legacy:

After their scenes together in the movie, Chase and Idle collaborated on a script for NATIONAL LAMPOON’S AUSTRALIAN VACATION. Man, that would’ve synced right up with CROCODILE DUNDEE and the ensuing Aussiemania, but it was never made. Instead there were sequels without that sort of direct connection to this one: NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989), VEGAS VACATION (1997) and VACATION (2015) with Ed Helms playing grownup Rusty. VEGAS is the only one that didn’t make more than this one. There was also a made for television NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION 2: COUSIN EDDIE’S ISLAND ADVENTURE starring Randy Quaid. All are by different directors, and have different actors playing Rusty and Audrey, which Chase apparently thought would be funny. Only CHRISTMAS VACATION is written by Hughes. None are written by Robert Klane, who instead sealed his legacy as the man who wrote WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S and wrote and directed WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S II.

Heckerling went in sort of the opposite direction – instead of making movies about a dead body, she directed two about babies (LOOK WHO’S TALKING and LOOK WHO’S TALKING TOO). I don’t know what to say about that, but she will always have my respect for her 1995 teen movie classic CLUELESS.

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64 Responses to “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”

  1. I don’t think I’ve seen this in 3 decades but I used to love this when I was a kid on HBO but I don’t think I ever wanna watch this one now.

  2. Don’t have much to say about this other than the bit with Big Ben and Eric Idle is the only memorable thing about it, so I’ll just step in to say that John Astin was Sean Astin’s stepfather, not his father. The craziest thing is that everybody brings up this bit of trivia but nobody ever mentions that his mother is Patty Motherfuckin’ Duke.

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  3. The first one and CHRISTMAS are very good, the others not so much. I never even bothered with the 2015 one, guessing the best gag (a rehash of the Christie Brinkley scenes, with a hilarious ending) was already in the trailer.

  4. The main thing I remember about last time I saw this was how raunchy it managed to be for a non-R-rated film. Like, when people pearl-clutch about the collapse of moral values (they don’t really do that much anymore, but they used to, bigtime), it’s like, look at this PG or PG-13 rated family comedy film from the mid-80s.

    I also remember what a weird commentary this film was on fat-shaming. Like, it is actually pro- or anti- being okay with your body. Zabka was so typecast and so good. Now review JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, Vern (lol).

  5. Dana Barron, the original Audrey, actually reprised the role for Christmas Vacation 2. Also I’m not big on celebrity gossip, but it’s still interesting to me that the director of Vacation 2 had a secret love child with the director of Vacation and that she basically channeled that heartbreak to write and direct her biggest hit, Look Who’s Talking.

    https://www.vulture.com/2018/06/the-story-of-harold-ramis-and-amy-heckerlings-daughter.html

  6. Fun fact: There is a statue of the fake German relative in Cologne. Willy Millowitsch was a damn popular stage actor, especially in his hometown.

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Millowitsch#/media/Datei:Willy_Millowitsch_Denkmal.jpg

    onthewall, the 2015 one is just ugly and meanspirited. A surprising amount of punchlines are about rape and pedophilia and the admittedly funniest scene is about a tourguide, who tries to commit suicide without caring if he kills the Griswolds too. I mean, even the very first one had some pretty dark humor (The dead grandma, the demise of the dog), but this one made me feel like I had to take a shower. (To my own surprise, the team behind it was also responsible for the damn great GAME NIGHT, which I had never seen if I had known beforehand who made it.)

  7. You think Griswold/Griswald is bad? The French guy who steals their video camera could not have viewed, let a lone duplicated and distributed, Clark and Ellen’s sex tape, as it would have been compatible with the USA/Mexico/Japan NTSC video standard, whereas the standard prevalent in France at that time was SECAM. SECAM, like the PAL standard that reigned in the rest of non-Iron Curtain Europe, gave 625 lines of resolution at 25 fps (due to their electrical systems being on a 50 Hz cycle), but was distinct from that due to the fact that it broadcast the red and blue color information in separate subcarrier signals, in alternating lines (the green signal, as far as I understand it, is still inferred from these other two). Try playing a 525 line/29.97 fps tape with a COMPOSITE COLOR SIGNAL MIGHT I ADD on a SECAM deck and what do you think you get? If you said jack squat you’d be right. And Hughes and Heckerling just expect us to ignore all of that for the sake of their silly running gag! I for one don’t understand why the 1985 audience felt the need to reward the film despite this grievous insult to their intelligence, but I guess that’s the Reagan era for you.

  8. See to me, as a Brit who was not alive at the time, the end credits unironically represent everything that was great about America c.1985. Action stars, Bugs Bunny, pro-wrestling, faux-Hair Metal AOR. Glorious.

    I liked the 2015 VACATION, although I can’t remember much of it, was just nice to see a modern comedy with set pieces and structured jokes prioritised over ad-libbing. I liked VEGAS VACATION a lot too, guess I’m just a sucker for these films. Never caved in to watching CHRISTMAS VACATION 2 though.

  9. Holy Hell, Handsome Dan, that’s some kinda analysis you done did there. I am impressed.

    Anyways, I always liked this one better than the original. I had it taped off HBO, so that probably explains why. Now I can recognize the greatness of Vacation, but I still appreciate that European Vacation is a cartoon. The whole thing is just a goofy joke. It’s why I still love Hudson Hawk. You can just drink it in and not take it seriously at all. And laugh, and laugh, and laugh….

  10. Three thoughts-

    1. Shocking to me that John Astin isn’t being recognized for his seminal performance in originating the role of Gomez Addams.

    2. Those hats with tails are called “flap caps” and the idea is to keep your neck from getting sunburned. Source: was forced to wear one when fishing with my dad as a kid, even though it would obviously make me look like a dork to any hotties I ran into on the river.

    3. This is obviously an inferior sequel, but I do think it’s interesting that the *third* in the series has become such a classic that it probably outshines even the original at this point. Is it *just* because it’s a Christmas movie and so has a built-in reason to revisit it every year, or is CHRISTMAS VACATION in fact the superior VACATION movie?

  11. I would say it’s largely because it’s a Christmas movie. There’s no surer shortcut to some longevity than setting a film at Christmas. Even CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRANKS has stuck around.

  12. I will need to revisit this one, because like others, I must have seen this 5-10x on HBO as a kid. So, I’m not sure it would hold up as a good film, but it’s still pretty memorable. Things I liked:
    -The SOUND OF MUSIC sequence
    -Rusty and the girl at Oktoberfest (guilty pleasure)
    -“We’re looking for sex”
    -Scuzzy motel/hotel manager and that whole hotel situation
    -Eric Idle
    -There was something strangely touching and sad about Audrey
    -Yes, of course, “Big Ben, Parliament”
    -Doesn’t Clark end up accidentally stuck in bed with a troublingly receptive woman at one point?

    CHRISTMAS VACATION definitely has that holiday tradition material — most families don’t have an annual tradition around traveling to Europe. I think CHRISTMAS VACATION earns its status as a classic. I watch it at least every other CHRISTMAS, and it never gets old for me.

    VEGAS VACATION I thought was pretty darn terrible, although the Hoover Dam gag was pretty fun. This was when Chevy was on the downward trajectory already, and I saw it theatrically, very much wanting to get that old magic back. It just wasn’t there, unfortunately.

    Would you believe I’ve never seen VACATION 1!?! Or the remake for that matter. Worth it?

  13. Handsome Dan, I very much appreciate your respect for regional video standards. Could he watch it through the viewfinder, though? Maybe not.

  14. At least this movie sort of attempts to uphold the superior original’s (maybe a bit too mean) approach where the Griswolds all-American cluelessness is satirized. CHRISTMAS VACATION is firmly on their side. Like, we’re somehow all supposed to relate to the anguish of whether or not we’ll get a Christmas bonus that will allow us to install a household swimming pool. HOME ALONE is the better John Hughes-scripted Christmas film about the protecting of upperclass fortune.

  15. All of these Natl Lampoon movies are so weird to me. Growing up I heard dozens of times how funny they all were, from every other kid in school (I could never see them, having neither the funds or parental permission). Even as a young adult people would talk them up, especially Xmas vacation around Xmas time. When I finally watched a few of them after all those years I was quite confused, as all the jokes fall completely flat for me. Overly broad, obvious, obnoxious humor. These movies all feel like they are considered funny not because they truly evoke laughter but because everybody else has said they are funny for years. It is not that I am a humorless guy, I just demand a little bit of cleverness to my comedy and these movies don’t do it for me. I find DUMB AND DUMBER tedious and boring, but SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is a classic. XMAS VACATION is a slog, but I have seen XMAS STORY dozens of times and still enjoy it.

  16. I think the point about sympathizing with Clark’s loss of his bonus is a little overblown. It’s not that he needs the bonus to afford the pool and life is otherwise perfect, it’s that he *already blew a bunch of money on the pool* and now needs the bonus to get out from under his own stupid self-imposed debt. If we should sympathize with him on anything, it’s having a dickhead boss who doesn’t care about screwing over his workers.

    I also think the movie is less on Clark’s side than that- the whole point of the movie is he needs to calm down and just let things happen, rather than trying to control everything and everyone. Basically the whole point of the movie is that Clark is a stupid asshole and makes bad choices, but there’s a veneer of Christmas frosting on it that softens a lot of the blow.

    I may be more partial to it because I don’t find the type of meanness of the original to be particularly funny, but I think it’s not correct to say CHRISTMAS VACATION is a particularly nice movie.

  17. The Griswolds are a national treasure. I think you could send them anywhere and it would be funny. I love them all.

    This is the first I’ve heard of Australian Vacation. I’ll have to see if that script is online.

    The original is still the best although I only saw it after being a fan of this one. The amusement park destination reminded me most of my family’s vacations, and to some extended our road trips which were never more than a day long (otherwise we’d fly.) still, the family is endearing and I wish they’d make more.

  18. Richard Dawson was infamous for being a pervy game show host on Family Feud, kissing all the women, so it was a thing.

    I remember pretty much nothing of this movie. Just the Big Ben/Parliament bit. I am a big fan of CLUELESS so I was disappointed to find that some of Heckerling’s most famous movies were not great in the treatment of the women characters. Upon further investigation, though, I discovered she directed them but someone else wrote them. I hope it was just a case of being early in her career so she didn’t have much sway over things and a sign of the times and all that. Also it’s been years since I’ve seen them so maybe I’m being too hard on them.

  19. rainman, re: your not getting what the fuss is about w/ CHRISTMAS VACATION, I think it’s maybe a generation gap (even though it sounds like you were part of the relevant generation!). Like a lot of things, I think it imprints on you at a certain developmental age and a certain cultural moment. Every time I watch it, I’m partaking of the memories of watching it over the years and all the sentiment around its place as a touchstone in my life. In this case, it’s a sentiment double-whammy, because secular Christmas was a huge-deal holiday growing up in my family. Still, I think CHRISTMAS has a lot of good moments to it. The Randy Quaid stuff, the asshole in-laws, the relatability of obnoxious and passive-aggressive extended family dynamics.

    Plus, yeah, this one really leans into the idea that Clark is kind of obsessively driven by his stupid little quests and fixations, whatever anyone else wants be damned. He’s kind of insufferable. There is also layering there, where it’s implied that he probably got some of that from his dad. As with the strange mixture of amusement and subtle social commentary in Audrey’s EUROPEAN eating disorder-cation, this one does seem to be wrestling a bit with the dysfunctional side of corporate America and the patriarchal nature of the middle-class white Amerian family. Sometimes the film seems to be in on the joke that Clark is a bit of a clueless control freak who is always dragging his family on excessive, payoff-rarely-justifies-the-hassle adventures and family moments (the tree, the lights, pool). And there is clearly some commentary with the neighbors and Bryan Doyle-Murray. And like how Vern describes Ellen in EUROPEAN vacation, Beverly D’Angleo definitely brings some nuance to Ellen, how is kind of longsuffering with Charles, but you feel her gentle, strained exasperation.

    So, the film definitely seems to be in on a lot of its layers. But not always or completely. Maybe it’s more nuanced in its social commentary than I’ve given it credit for in the past. Still, the entitlement with these bonuses and the idea that install-your-own-pool kind of bonus money is a normal middle class thing. Well, I’ve said my piece on that!

  20. sorry, meant “who is longsuffering with Clark” — poor editing as usual

  21. Incidentally, VACATION and CHRISTMAS VACATION are actually based on two short stories John Hughes wrote called “Vacation ‘58” and “Christmas ‘59”, while EUROPEAN VACATION was mostly made out of leftover material from the first film, which may go some way to explain the discrepancy in quality.

    I think the idea of these stories basically being based on John Hughes’ experiences from the ‘50s being transposed into the ‘80s kind of explains stuff like the Christmas bonus, which definitely feels more like a Mad Men kinda ‘50s thing to me.

    That said, “Christmas ‘59” is a pretty rough read these days. It prominently features a very “Long Duck Dong” type of character who talks in an unfortunate dialect and gets made fun of by the family and eventually robs them and they shoot him with a BB gun. I guess ol’ Johnny thought that kinda thing was pretty comedic.

  22. This is interesting, because it speaks to what petromst was getting at, which is how much of the distant and even recent cultural-social norms of the past that we’re re-litigating, even things from 10 or fewer years ago, which is frequently part of the joke (“…but that was a different time. It was 2016.”). It can be exhausting to see new social layers to things, where things that once could be earnestly enjoyed at face value maybe take on more layers and you find yourself feeling less comfortable with things you used to enjoy unironically. It’s something of a journey to arrive at a place of being able to say first to yourself and then maybe to others: “I used to enjoy the rapey-ness of REVENGE OF THE NERDS in an unironic way, because I was a horny, voyeuristic male, and the social cues around me kind of enabled that as being okay” (come on audience, join in the rapey fun!).

    It forces you to look back not just on the art but on yourself in a new light, which honestly can be a really constructive invitation. It can be interesting and rewarding to have those conversations and thought processes, even if they can be heated or a bit of an ugly cry. Same way with CHRISTMAS VACATION. I enjoy it without shame and appreciate the good, and I don’t begrudge 1980s former ad man John Hughes being 1980s former ad man John Hughes. Why would I expect him to see the world in ways I’m only just now getting around to, and still with some resistance or skepticism at points. It’s not a 2020 film, after all. I can still enjoy parts of it unironically at face value, but I can also mine some deeper layers, even from such arthouse materials as a film where “Shitter’s full” remains one of the best lines.

  23. It’s become a bit of a cliche now, but I always liked the Boris Vallejo CONAN-parody posters for these movies. But then I’m a sucker for anything that would look cool airbrushed on the side of a van.

    Handsome Dan: This is some wonderful attention to detail and technically correct, the best kind of correct.

    Vern: According to IMDB the video camera Chevy uses is JVC SF-P3 (apparently Chevy’s own!), but this is technically not a camcorder at all, but instead a mount for two separate units, a compact camera and a VHS-C recorder, hence the bulk. Because of this design you could not playback recordings through the viewfinder. Later models (like the JVC GR-C1 used in BACK TO THE FUTURE) used an all-in-one design which could.

    Those types of caps are called Legionnaire’s hats in Australia, and are a staple of summer school uniforms. Nobody has ever been able to wear one without looking like a goober, except for maybe Van Damme in his 1998 film LEGIONNAIRE.

    All are by different directors, and have different actors playing Rusty and Audrey, which Chase apparently thought would be funny.

    Not so. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION 2: COUSIN EDDIE’S ISLAND ADVENTURE, apart from making the other VACATION movies look like high art, features Dana Barron as Audrey Griswold, the only actor to appear as one of the Griswold children twice!

  24. Part of the charm of the first one for me is that despite being made in 1983, it has that feeling of a 70’s movie to it, probably one of the last films not influenced either by MTV or BLADE RUNNER to set it apart from films of the past.

    I saw VEGAS VACATION theatrically too. Yeah, not very good.

  25. Kurgan- CHRISTMAS VACATION came out the same Christmas as the first SIMPSONS episode, which also revolves around Homer not getting his Christmas bonus, so it seems that it was “in the air” even if it was more of a 50s throwback, although Homer actually needs his bonus to buy presents, and I guess it’s possible, perhaps even likely given the writers’ roots in humour magazines, that the SIMPSONS writers were drawing on CHRISTMAS 59 for influence.

  26. That hat is called a kepi.

  27. Wait, those posters aren’t Drew Struzan?

    So much hate on Vegas. I thought that was a quite solid attempt to continue the Griswolds. Chevy seems invested in selling his bumbling comedy and I thought they found lots of fun to poke at American families getting in trouble in Vegas. I love the Papagiorgio subplot and the trailer park casino with dumb games like Pick a Number is awesome.

    Again, you could send the Griswolds anywhere and I wish they did. At least we’re getting an HBO Max streaming series I guess. That could be the next level.

  28. Fred- nope, it’s a straight-up Boris Vallejo classic! He of the bikini swordswoman and dragon battle fame. He did a new one for the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release too, but I can only find a tiny crummy thumbnail version on Facebook after a brief search.

  29. I was 12 when this came out and I remember it being a really disappointing, deflating sequel. At that point, I and nearly everyone I knew thought the original Vacation was pretty funny and I think everyone liked the cast of that movie. Then this came along and lost me and I think most people because of this rapid fire assault of weirdness in the first 20 minutes: (a) Ew, this Pig in a Poke scene is embarrassing; (b) Ew, those people are NOT Rusty and Audrey; and (c) What is with these drawn out, random, plodding dream sequences on the plane?

    The Eric Idle stuff and “Big Ben! Parliament!” and the Octoberfest rumble a little while were kind of funny but by then it was too little too late. By then the mood in the room in my house was deeply in “This stinks” territory. Also, my brother and sisters and I screeched in embarasssment during the trying-on-all-the-fancy-clothes montage.

  30. Handsome Dan you made a really good technical point. But there were ways around it. Bootleggers and / or copy houses – professionals could reproduce an NTSC tape to a PAL/SECAM one with the help of a signal converter. It definitely was an existing technology at the time!

  31. 1)Handsome Dan, just outstanding. Having worked in post production with PAL and NTSC conversions back in the day… That just hit my sweet spot. Thank you!

    2) Vegas Vacation has 2 great gags, one is Chase not recognizing the kids when he first sees them. The second is the unusual casino that lets you bet on rock, paper, scissors and other games of chance.

    3) I get the love and some of the quotes are good, but never cared for Christmas Vacation. Too much Randy Quaid.

    Thats all i got

  32. Those types of caps are called Legionnaire’s hats in Australia, and are a staple of summer school uniforms. Nobody has ever been able to wear one without looking like a goober, except for maybe Van Damme in his 1998 film LEGIONNAIRE

    The Clash (the rock band) seemed very fond of them, and I always thought they looked cool (at least when I was 10)

    Vern, if you watch breakdance videos from the early ’80s, you’ll see that Legionnaire’s caps and Parachute pants were THE THING

  33. Ended up watching this. All the criticisms of this are fair, but darn it I still like it. Interesting to think some of the jokes about these kids today with their loud music on their walkmans, and the hundreds of cable TV channels they think they’re owed was riffing on stuff that had only been in the popular consciousness for a couple of years at that point, but the gags could still play today if you updated the technology to phones and streaming.

    One bit that doesn’t play so well, at least for me, is the hip new clothes scene. Are we supposed to think those are cool or ridiculous? Or maybe that the clothes are cool but they look ridiculous on the Griswalds? I think maybe they would have been fashionable in parts of the UK (and I’m sure the rest of Europe) in 81/82ish, but not in California In 84/85. In 2020 it’s hard to tell. And I *like* a lot of 80s fashion!

    Also I feel like someone should note that Dana Hill had a pretty good career as a distinctive voice actress (Ralph Bakshi’s MIGHTY MOUSE, GOOF TROOP, even Jerry mouse!) before early passing away at only 32 in 1996.

  34. Skani: The first VACATION is worth watching, and is probably still the best of these because less inhibitions by the R rating. The raunchiness plays more naturally where in the sequels it’s a bit too teasing at times to enjoy. I can’t think of a franchise that ever benefited by going from an R rating to a PG-13 or PG in it’s sequel. The closest I can think of is MAJOR LEAGUE 2, which was PG to it’s original mildly hard R.

    Plus Chevy is great, so is Beverly D’Angelo (who was like 31 or 32 when she made this). John Candy as the security guard is an all-timer as far as small roles in comedies, which he also pulled off in HOME ALONE. Really hope Vern covers Candy’s SUMMER RENTAL for this series, directed by the recently departed Carl Reiner.

  35. Okay, I’m sold. I think I’m gonna revisit 1, 2 and 4 and maybe, if that pans out well, I can go that final round against the remake. Ding ding.

  36. I think EUROPEAN VACATION is probably raunchier than VACATION to be honest, or cruder or something. Definitely not something that would have been accepted at PG-13 in the last 25 years anyway

    The 2015 VACATION does call into that 2010s thing where movies couldn’t simply be R, they had to be hard-R in a way that feels like a marketing decision, with an F-bomb quota to be filled, and a series of sexual acts mandatory for description or depiction.

  37. Pac-Man, I definitely took it as the clothes are ridiculous.

  38. The Ed Helms Vacation movie spends way too much time with the youngest son being a psychopath who is constantly trying to kill his brother. It’s pretty gross.

  39. Yeah, that does sound gross. Just rub-your-nose-in-it transgressive meanness. This is what I didn’t get with Todd Solondz’s HAPPINESS. It was a well-constructed and performed film, but such a glum, sullen, mean-spirited, puerile view of humanity. Maybe it could work if viewed as a kind of horror film or avant garde “horror dramedy,” but my brain didn’t quite know where to fix it, genre-wise. Maybe that says more about me than it, but it certainly left a mark on me. Maybe that is the one I should revisit after the other VACATIONS. Hmm…

    Anyway, there is something unsettling about how that kind of stuff situates inside the rest of the film or the “brand” of a VACATION film. “Psychopathic torment. Serial killer in-training. What wacky fun!!!!”

  40. More indicative of the NATIONAL LAMPOON brand itself, as they weren’t afraid to go into more taboo spots of humor to get attention. It was subversive in the beginning but by the 80’s the magazine went into more outlandishly lewd areas, ultimately causing the ire of the “moral majority” because the magazine wasn’t put to the back of the magazine section with the PLAYBOYS and PENTHOUSES of the world.

  41. In the book, On the Road with the Ramones, Johnny Ramone is said to have sat angrily in the van while the rest of the band visited Stonehenge because he didn’t want to look at “some dumb rocks.” Sadly, Rusty’s sentiment was probably no that uncommon for the time (or for now, most likely?)

  42. Every Ramones story I have ever heard makes them sound like the most adorably deadpan morons who’ve ever lived. Like, Spinal Tap crossed with Beavis & Butt-head morons. If you wrote characters as on-the-nose stupid as the Ramones, no one would buy it. There’s a purity to that level of stupidity, though, and I think it’s what makes their music so sincere. They’re never saying anything deep but they’re saying it with total conviction. You throw one ironic smartass who thinks he’s above it all in that band and the whole thing falls apart. They were geniuses at one thing and one thing only: being the Ramones. And really, isn’t that more than any of us can say?

  43. I have a question about this whole “ugly American” cliche. I know we have a lot of people here from outside the US and I’m curious, is it really as bad as the rep? I’m not very widely traveled and have only been out of the country to visit Cancun Mexico and Victoria Canada, which, do those even count? But, still, the few times I’ve seen tourists do something pretty egregious, it’s been nationalities other than American.

  44. I’ve stopped doubting every stereotype and cliche about Americans. The past few years have proven that we are every bit as dumb and loutish as Europeans have always said we are. If you told me that American tourists routinely shit in the streets of Paris and wipe it up with clothes stolen off the backs of refugee children, the only part I’d question is that they bothered to clean up after themselves at all.

  45. Eh, I suspect that stereotype is a little played out these days. The new hotness is cracking down on drunken Brits going buck-wild.

  46. You definitely have a point, Majestyk.

  47. I am American but have traveled abroad a pretty fair amount. In my experience, if there is a loud, fat, obnoxious family on the train or in the restaurant who sticks out like a sore thumb and is obviously despised by nearly everybody else, they are more often than not American. But then there are plenty of nice respectful Americans too, and I like to count myself as one of them. I have personally been dismissed and looked down on by shopkeepers and waiters and such when I first arrived in a place of business, and then after being perfectly normal, friendly, and respectful they have almost always changed their attitude quickly and been very nice and helpful. I don’t speak any other languages but English and everywhere I have gone people have been just fine speaking English with me if I ask them first.

    So yes, I think Ugly Americans not only exist but they are quite common and the stereotype while unfortunate fits well enough on many occasions that it is easy to see how it came to be. But it is only a dumb stereotype and is easily dismissed or overcome by just not acting like that.

  48. I think America and many Americans have and continue to do many wonderful things. Without in any way minimizing the horrific, abusive, and downright evil we and every other nation has done, there are unabashedly great things about the American experiment. I am all for shining a light on the horrific shit, of which there is plenty, if that is directed toward a positive end. But why actively seek out opportunities to non-constructively swarm toward any “___ is shitty” blood in the water? Let’s fight the bad and builld on the good and be unflinchingly honest and unremittingly constructive. I struggle with this, but I think it’s an aspiration worth pursuing. We don’t have to whitewash or wallow in fatalism. That’s a choice.

  49. The Ramones were more than just morons — they were basically the four most dysfunctional human beings who ever lived, and, amazingly, each one in a totally different and incompatible way. Joey was a obsessive-compulsive liberal control freak, Johnny was an ego-maniacal right-wing sociopath, Dee Dee was a human trainwreck of hopeless junkie antipathy, and Tommy was a drummer. Their collective simpering idiocy was the only area in which they had any common ground, and yet, they probably deserve to be on any list of the most influential musicians of the last century.

    Which is to say: understand the Ramones, and you understand the world– both why it is a complete disaster, and why it still sort of works in its own desperately miserable way.

  50. In my recent tour through Southeast Asia, I found that Chinese tourists were universally more despised than Americans. Could be a question of proximity; the Chinese are looming above these countries like an authoritarian thundercloud.

  51. Wasn’t “More Than Just Morons” the title of their greatest hits album?

  52. Misters Majestyk and Subtlety,

    Tommy Ramone was a brilliant, empathetic organizer who saw what Andy Warhol started and took it to the furthest possible degree. He willed musical unity into four very disparate people (which includes himself), the chief architect of a sound that has been subdivided by quite possibly millions of bands over the course of forty-six years. Starting with three oddball neighborhood kids he knew, his foresight and dedication gave meaning and purpose to a sea of outsiders who would not have had it otherwise. He is the most culturally-resonant minimalist concept artist of all time.

    Dee Dee came from a very troubled and fractured background that he carried with him through life, but I think it is wrong to doubt his non-traditional intelligence. If any rock star had the Marilyn Monroe “genius playing dumb” quality, it was Dee Dee. I particularly recommend Lech Kowaliski’s 2002 documentary HEY! IS DEE DEE HOME? for a measured look at his strange and unique mind. He is a completely different person once you realize he knew he was being funny. I also think his years of sobriety contained a lot of hopefulness.

    I think Joey’s control-freak tendencies were only directed at himself, even if his bandmates had to deal with them. He also appears to have been the single most good-natured front-person in all of rock and roll. I have never met or witnessed anyone with a bad word to say about Joey Ramone. I think his kindness contained an intelligence in his powers of interpersonal observation.

    Joey was a Iggy Pop fan, an Alice Cooper fan, a Beavis and Butthead fan and a Letterman fan. He is a part of the great lineage of smart art that utilizes the tool of stupidity.

    Johnny is a difficult figure to reckon with, but he did keep the Ramones’ marriage going post-Tommy, for better or for worse. The validation and inspiration this provided is considerable, and really important. I think his drive kept punk as being something that was accessible to people in all the “secondary markets” and forgotten cities of America (which is to say nothing of their continual impact in South America, etc).

    You’re a New Yorker, right Majestyk? I’m a little surprised you don’t see The Ramones as being representatives of the classic “weird neighborhood goon who is smarter than they let on” archetype. A little dippy, a little loco, but fundamentally intelligent.

    I love the Rock and Roll High School, “Hey, pizza! It’s great, let’s dig in!”, “We got these amps that they…they can…they can really…they…they…work.” Johnny-being-furious-that-Europeans-did-not-use-ice aspect of The Ramones (and its resultant mythmaking) more than anyone, but I think it is a major simplification. Speaking as someone who has spent an indescribable amount of time immersed in obsessive Ramones fandom, I think a lot of the times when The Ramones seemed dumb they were either kidding, tired or uncomfortable.

    To make an an analogy that is a little more typically outlawvern, I don’t think that Biz Markie or Flavor Flav are dumb, or that ODB was dumb, do you? Silliness, eccentricity, a capacity for unusual free-association and a brilliance filtered through various troubles of expression can easily be misconstrued.

    (I would also like to submit the case that Flav is in some ways both the Johnny and the Dee Dee of Public Enemy.)

    I am with you both about that the Ramones are awesome, though.

    Sincerely,
    Mr. ALF
    aka
    ALF Ramone

  53. I should have been more clear: I love the Ramones, and meant all that up affectionately. The fact that they were all such utter misfits, and had such obvious sitcom-level conflicting personalities, was a feature, not a bug. The Ramones are the embodiment of why the world needed punk rock: who else was going to put up with four guys like that? They were complete rejects everywhere else, so they built something for themselves. That’s the essence of the punk ethos as far as I’m concerned, the thing that ensured it wasn’t completely defined by oppositional antagonism.

  54. Look big ups the Ramones for sure, but “…and Tommy was a drummer” is the best punchline I’ve seen in days.

  55. I actually think European Vacation is the only one of these Vacation movies I’ve seen all the way through. I remember very little of it, except that I don’t remember thinking it was all that funny.

    I’ve seen parts of the first movie and until recently none of Christmas. Whenever I tell people they react with shock, like I’m telling them I’ve never been to the beach or something. My father-in-law has insisted that we all watch it next Christmas. There’s only one problem. This last Christmas, after drinking for eight or so hours with a friend, he threw Christmas Vacation on, and I saw about the first twenty before passing out at three in the morning. It was the worst of that cheesy, over-the-top, mugging eighties comedy. So now there’s the impending threat of watching this terrible comedy with the in laws and finding some way to appear that I enjoy it.

    As far as the Ramones go, I think the greatest testament to their talent is the fact that there are approximately a million pop punk bands out there who take their lineage directly from the Ramones, and not one of them even approaches the quality of the Ramones’s output. They captured something that a million others couldn’t. It’s really incredible.

  56. I decided to start with EUROPEAN VACATION yesterday, and am ~ 35 minutes in, and I have to say, things are not looking great so far. The John Astin thing is a total Richard Dawson parody. Oh, man, that kiss with Audrey is so gross. She’s a minor! WTF. Did Richard Dawson ever go that far? “This is the FAMILY FEUD, with your hoooost…Jerry Lee Lewis!!!”

  57. When I was a kid this was one of maybe five movies my family had on VHS – probably recorded off an HBO free trial weekend – so I have seen this dumb movie more than any reasonable person should. If they invented a computer that could identify people who have seen European Vacation the most that I would not be surprised if I were in the top ten. I was at that age when I couldn’t yet tell the difference between a good movie and a bad movie, but this had Chevy Chase in it, so I thought it must be both good and funny. This was also one of the only reliable sources I had to see boobs on demand, so yeah, I’ve seen this shitty movie more times than many of my favorite movies.

  58. I totally forgot to tell you about the German title of this one. It’s HELP, THE AMIS ARE COMING! (Not sure if anybody outside of German speaking countries uses “Ami” as slang for Americans, but that’s what it means, in case it wasn’t obvious.)

  59. CHRISTMAS VACATION has Chevy drinking out of one of those old Warner Bros Studio Store Taz mugs, which may or may not have been some synergy for the cover of the 1990 ( “Happy 50th Birthday Bugs”) Warner Bros catalog, with Chevy appearing alongside Bugs.

    Look, I didn’t promise you’d find this post interesting.

  60. The Dawson thing wasn’t as gross then as it is now because it appears all the women consented to it because the 70s were weird.

  61. Having seen it each year at Yule since it came out, I’m in no doubt that CHRISTMAS VACATION is the one that holds up the best. The first one has it’s moments, but it’s not THAT funny. EUROPEAN VACATION is perhaps funnier to those of us who live outside of USA – just how many cliches about foreigners can we cram into one movie? – but it is at least better than VEGAS VACATION.

  62. Terribly sorry to have caused a Ramones-based tangent in the European Vacation thread but ALF is 100% correct. Only he left out that Joey was also a financial whiz who made a lot of money in the stock market (his solo album “Don’t Worry About Me” even includes a love song about Maria Bartiromo). Their dum-dum act was just that, an act. They understood branding and wanted to be real life MAD magazine characters to match their bubblegum lyrics. They didn’t write simple songs because it’s all they knew how to do, they wrote them in defiance of the bloated, 5+ minute 70’s jams popular at the time (believe me, they wrote their fair share of overlong crap later into their career).

    Johnny was, by all accounts, a huge piece of shit with offenses ranging from allegedly being a klan member to actually marrying Joey’s longtime girlfriend . It was remarked how few people attended his funeral (hi Nic Cage!) It’s also heartbreaking that towards the end of his life when he was dying of cancer he apparently quietly asked Eddie Vedder if he knew any spiritual healers that could take his pain away. Joey, on the other hand, was as nice as everyone has ever said. One of my most treasured memories is when I was hanging out with a friend who was interviewing the band The Independents that Joey was managing before one of their shows. The owner of the club where they were playing decided out of nowhere they didn’t get a guest list and that they were at capacity and thus, my friend and I couldn’t come in. So Joey walks in as the club owner fawns all over him, hears about the situation from one of The Independents, points to me and my friend and says “they can come in. They’re with me. They’re Ramones.” The owner begrudgingly let us in and I almost fainted.

  63. “from allegedly being a klan member to actually marrying Joey’s longtime girlfriend”

    Wait…is this what THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY is actually about?

  64. CJ – *ahem* allegedly

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