Holiday films fall into two categories: those with at least a hint of magic and the supernatural (The Santa Clause, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol) and those that leave the mystical behind and focus on family gatherings (dysfunctional or otherwise). National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation falls into the latter category, and it’s arguably the best of the subgenre: classic comic timing from Chevy Chase in his best role; hilarious comedy setpieces; zingy, fun dialogue from John Hughes; and just the right dose of Yuletide heart.
If you’re like me, you notice subtle little gags every time you watch the movie. Here are a few that I picked up only after repeat viewings:
Clumsy Cousin Eddie: When Clark and Cousin Eddie are shopping at the supermarket, watch Clark repeatedly attempt to put delicate objects like light bulbs into the cart, only to have them smashed when Eddie plops big bags of dog food on top of them.
Fashion Sense: Take a look at Cousin Eddie’s outfit when he and Clark are chatting in front of the Christmas tree shortly after Eddie’s arrival. True to his clueless, country bumpkin form, Eddie is not only wearing a far-too-tight white sweater, he’s also combined it with a painfully obvious black mock turtleneck.
Great Minds Think Alike: When Clark enters boss Mr. Shirley’s (Brian Doyle-Murray, brother to Bill Murray) office to give him a Christmas present, take a look at the gifts on the table from the other employees… they’re all exactly the same shape.
“It’s just a little dry”: The dinner table scene is full of subtle bits of physical comedy that are easy to miss if you don’t happen to be looking at the right part of the scene. Some highlights: Ellen surreptiously flicks the inedible turkey from her fork, Clark accidentally wipes his mouth on his holiday tie, and Cousin Eddie amuses himself by playing the old “here is the church; here is the steeple” game.
Only in France: Next time you watch, flick on the French subtitles. In France, the film is known by the rather bawdy title of Le Sapin A Des Boules. Translation? The Fir Tree Has Balls. Hmmmm.