The above synopsis seems redundant, so seemingly deeply entrenched in the collective psyche is this film. Macaulay Culkin, long since departed from our screens, was at the time the hottest child actor on the planet, for the most part off the back of the appeal and success of this and its first sequel.
In this, he was perfectly cast. Self-assured but not precocious, a trouble-maker but inventive and industrious with it and fundamentally a good (if far from perfect) kid, Kevin is an ideal character for kids to warm to and side with as they discover this festive treat for the first time. It helps of course that this film gives us a number of other elements that get the kids cheering Kevin on at every turn – a seemingly helpless kid up against mean grown-ups, comic-book violence inflicted on crooks, a misunderstood and ultimately very helpful scary old man and a genuine sense of wonder at Christmas.
The film is greatly aided by its impressive adult cast, indeed it shows a key way to help this sort of film succeed. Just look at Home Alone 3 and 4 – anonymous and talentless grown-ups and a charisma-free star-moppett. Instead in this (and to a lesser extent in the sequel) you get the best people you can get for the supporting roles and it helps carry the thing through – Joe Pesci, John Heard, John Candy, the desperately frantic and utterly lovely Catherine O’Hara. It all works really well.
Key to the film’s success then and its enduring appeal now is the pain inflicted on Harry and Marv as they attempt to get into the McCallister home. Let’s tick off the checklist:-
- Ice on the front and back steps
- Red hot door handle
- Air rifle through the cat-flap
- Tar and a nail on the basement steps
- Glass baubles inside the living room window
- Blowtorch inside the kitchen door
- Superglue and feathers
- Toy cars at the bottom of the stairs
- Paint tins on the stairs
- Trip wire on the landing
- Cut rope to the tree house
- Spider on the face
That’s quite a lot by anyone’s reckoning and the way it is all set-up and then executed is frankly superb. The mayhem and physical punishment build and build and yet the film ends with a sense of the enjoyment of Christmas, rather than just damage for its own sake.
A fantastic blend of laughs and tenderness and a firm favourite for the Christmas season.