National Lampoon’s VACATION (1983) – Revisiting the Original Classic

National Lapoon Vacation
National Lampoon’s VACATION (1983)
By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron
MPAA Rating: R
Selig Rating: Full Price
Runtime: 98 Min.
Original Release Date: 07/29/83
The movie that kicked off a hilarious series, National Lampoon’s Vacation debuted to audiences on July 29, 1983.  The story of the Griswold family’s vacation was a journey across country from Chicago to Wallyworld in California.
The adventure begins at Lou Glutz Motors where they are scheduled to pick up their new arctic blue Super Sports Wagon with CB and the optional fun pack.  Pulling up, their car is taken away by an attentive worker and the salesman Ed (Eugene Levy) presents Clark (Chevy Chase) and his son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) with a metallic pea (as in pea green) Wagon Queen Family Truckster.  He does the normal car salesman double talk and Clark threatens to walk.  An upset Clark demands that his old car be brought back so they can go to another dealer.  Unfortunately for Clark, the old car had been “accidentally” CRUSHED.  Needless to say, Clark and Rusty drive home in the green wagon.
Arriving home, we get the first indication of just how good this car is when it keeps running after the ignition is turned off.  When Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) asks why they brought this wagon home, Clark covers by saying he changed his mind.
The family makes good time at the start of their trip.  Arriving in St. Louis, Clark takes the wrong exit on the freeway and ends up in a bad part of town.  Clark, ever the nice trusting guy, stops twice and asks for directions.  (Harold Ramis states in the commentary on the DVD, “This is probably the most politically incorrect sequence I have ever shot.  It de-humanizes everyone involved.  I am not proud of it.  I am not even sure I would shoot this sequence today (2003).  And if I did I would shoot it in a much different way or write it differently”.)
Their stop at a motel for the night follows a frightening montage as Clark falls asleep at the wheel and the car leaves the freeway, runs through city streets and driveways, and ends with Chevy awakening just in time to slam on the brakes and spin into the motel parking lot.
Our first indication of why the film got its R-rating soon appears as Clark re-enacts the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. When he whips the shower curtain back and raises the banana, we see a topless Ellen showering.  The romance is not to be that night for the couple thanks to a vibrating bed that goes berserk and the kids rushing into the room to find out what the noise is.
The next day finds them at Ellen’s cousin’s farm.  Cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and Eddie (Randy Quaid) live a life with their five kids.  Oh, and we mustn’t forget Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her dog Dinky (he watches Family Feud and HATES Clark).
When they leave, they get to take wonderful (and cantankerous) Aunt Edna and Dinky with them to drop her off in Phoenix!  How lucky is that!    At their first stop for a picnic lunch we see that Stinky likes Rusty as much as he does Clark.
We also see the mysterious blonde woman in her hot red Ferrari (Christie Brinkley).  This is actually her second appearance in the film but the first time that Clark really interacts with her.  They dance with each other from across the rest stop parking lot.  This action is interrupted by the discovery that the dog had peed on the sandwiches.  Everyone but Edna throws their sandwich away.  She looks philosophical and resumes eating.
The family’s next stop is at Kamp Komfort in South Fork Colorado.  This is the first appearance of Brian Doyle-Murray.  We will see him again in the sequel National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation playing Clarks boss.
From a distance, the place looks good but the tents smell and the pool is trashed out (with a pair of geese swimming in it).  Needless to say, the family does NOT get a good night’s sleep.  While packing the car, Clark hooks Dinky’s leash to the bumper of the car to keep him under control until he can get the bags in the car.
Next cameo is James Keach as the motorcycle cop who pulls them over.  Ordering Clark out of the car he tells Clark that he would split his skull open with the but of his gun if he weren’t in uniform.  Clark has no idea what is going on until the officer takes him to the rear of the wagon to show him the leash with the empty collar still attached to the bumper.  Clark assures him it was an accident.  Edna does not take the news well.
The trip takes another detour when they take a wrong turn that sees them burst through a road closed sign and fly through the air to land in a bone jarring crash than blows all four tires and tears up the front end.  Before Clark walks to find a tow truck, he has a talk with Rusty and gives him his first taste of beer.  Clark takes one sip and then Rusty downs the rest of the can while his father is waxing poetic about his past.
Chevy’s walk out of the desert was a nightmare.  He arrives at a service station to find his family already there.  When it comes time to pay, the mechanic (Mickey Jones) forces Clark to give him all of the money he has on him.  When Clark says he’ll tell the Sheriff, the man pulls out his wallet and displays his badge.
The next day finds them dealing with a dead Aunt Edna somewhere near the Grand Canyon.  They tie her to the roof of the car and continue on to Cousin Norman’s in Phoenix.  Norman isn’t home so they leave her in a lawn chair to await his return.  Clark leaves a note on Edna’s sleeve.  Hopefully Norman won’t be too upset about finding his dead mother when he arrives home.
The family wants to go home but Clark has a meltdown and insists on continuing on to Wallyworld.  The argument continues in the motel room that night.  An angry Clark puts on his jacket and goes to the bar. 
Sitting at a table, drinking a beer, Clark is trying to chill when the Blonde walk up to the table.  The banter is not witty but it is pure Clark.  They end up at the pool where the young lady strips down to her birthday suit and dives in.  She invites Clark to “Go for it!” and join her.  Dropping his clothes, he does.  The ice cold water gets a reaction from him that attracts Ellen to investigate (and the rest of the motel as well).
Returning to the room, Ellen convinces Clark to return tom the pool where she jumps in topless.  She screams at encountering the frigid water which brings everyone out of their rooms again.  Clark jumps in to join her.
The next day the intrepid family finally reaches their goal, Wallyworld.  Parking in an empty lot, they approach the park’s gate.  Racing to the gate to the theme of Chariots of Fire, they find the sign: “Sorry Folks!  WE’RE CLOSED for 2 WEEKS… TO CLEAN AND REPAIR “AMERICA’S FAVORITE” Family Fun Park!”  Clark looses it and punches the moose in the nose hard enough to cave it in. 
They leave the park and Clark visits a Sporting goods store while Ellen fills the car with gas.  Returning to the park, Clark walks with his hand in a white paper bag.  Finding Lasky, a guard at Wallyworld (John Candy), Clarks request to talk to Roy Wally.  Lasky doesn’t have him on the list and starts to send him away.  The hand comes out of the bag and the gun in his hand is shown.  Grover, another guard (Frank McRae) is forced to lay down as the family takes Lasky on into the park, determined to have fun and ride the ride.  They proceed to work their way across the park riding the ride.
While they ride, SWAT arrives at the park.  As they get on a ride Lasky calls Clark on the gun.  It’s a BB gun!  Coming out of the Whipper Snapper, the police grab the family.  While they are being frisked, Roy Wally (Eddie Bracken) arrives.  Clark explains what happened.  He asks Roy if he ever took his kids on a road trip to which Roy replied, “Worst two weeks of my life!” 
Roy drops the charges and then takes them, including the security guards and police on the Screamy Meemy roller coater!  It was a happy ending to the story of a disastrous trip. 
This was NOT the PG-rated Disney film that people might have expected back then.  John Hughes put a definitely adult spin on the screenplay.  The story was derived from a short story, “Vacation 58” he wrote.  The National Lampoon influence is obvious in the nudity and course humor.  I think the blend of Ramis’, Hughes’, and National Lampoon’s inputs made for a very special film that has grabbed a place in the hearts of America.  
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