1985 was a fine year for Hollywood. Icons fell under the stampede for sequels while future classics were created. It’s time to look back.
In the coming weeks and months the HeyUGuys team will focus on some of best from ’85, exploring their legacy and capturing something of their enduring essence.
We’ve already watched a boxer win the Cold War, shone a light on an oft-forgotten Disney outing, hung out in a pool with Steve Guttenberg, endured bad Bond, enjoyed a Cruise Curry, drew First Blood for second time, reunited with The Brat Pack, got a keg of beer with a wolf, and today we’re going on vacation…
How do you top a trip to the iconic, all-American theme park Walleyworld? Simple – win the champion prize of a fabulous family vacation across Europe on a hit quiz show (Pig in a Poke) fronted by a weirdly lecherous host. And thus begins the springboard for the Griswolds’ second calamitous big screen escapade.
Coming two years after the original US-based cross country jaunt, National Lampoon’s European Vacation isn’t quite up there with its predecessor in the comedic stakes. It currently resides on Rotten Tomatoes with a meagre 39% (based on 23 reviews) and Variety at the time labelled it as ‘graceless’ claiming it was ‘only intermittently lit up by lunacy and satire’.
It even failed to surpass the original at the US box office, bowing out on $49m against Vacation’s $61m. It was a huge hit on home video however (both here and over the pond), riding on the increasing wave of popularity of that format at the time.
While 80s cinematic mainstay John Hughes was back on board as co-scriptwriter and received a ‘story by’ credit, the series’ lost director Harold Ramis (who was toiling away on the forgettable Robin Williams-headliner ensemble Club Paradise) with Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Amy Heckerling landing the gig in his absence. The two actors who originally inhabited the roles of the Griswold children also didn’t make it to the sequel.
Opting to appear instead in Hughes’ Weird Science, Anthony Michael Hall vacated the role of Rusty which went to Jason Lively (half brother of one Blake Lively, trivia fans), while Audrey was taken over by the late Dana Hill. The siblings would go on to be played by a further three sets of different actors throughout the series, culminating with Ed Helms and Leslie Mann in the new reboot.
Ostensibly, European Vacation is a chaotic travelogue stuffed with crude and mildly sexist humour, replete with the kind of broad cultural stereotypes which were openly accepted by a mainstream audience thirty years back. The French are rude and arrogant (one throwaway shot see’s a chef replacing the country’s haute cuisine with pre-packaged ready meals for the unsuspecting Griswolds) while the British are portrayed as either slobs or far too obliging (Eric Idle’s maddeningly affable cyclist is the worst culprit).
One sight gag, where the Griswolds accidently crash their rental car into Stonehenge, causing the huge tablets to come crashing down domino-like, could be read as a sly commentary on the oft-perceived crassness of US culture streamrolling its way over from over the Atlantic.
And therein lies the comedic beauty of the film. Hughes’ fellow countrymen and their lack of knowledge around the customs and social conduct of their European neighbours is mercifully sent up. Anyone familiar with the antics of the first film will know that buffoonish father of the clan Clark (played once again with deadpan sincerity by Chevy Chase) can’t help but turn the best intentions into unmitigated disasters, leading to some genuinely hilarious set-pieces.
Clark unwittingly driving into the inner ring of the Lambeth Bridge Roundabout and being unable to escape still registers as timely and humorously relevant to tourists over here. One particularly inspired moment occurs as the family surprise Clark’s elderly relatives in Germany, only to have gone to the wrong door. The unsuspecting Germans are overawed by their unwanted visitor’s forceful and brash nature, to the extent that the Griswolds end up staying overnight and are none the wiser about their mistake upon departure, much to the bemusement of their hosts.
It’s reported that the notoriously belligerent Chase was unhappy with the final film. The actor’s fraught creative relationship with a number of his past collaborators has been previously publicised (Home Alone’s Chris Columbus pulled out of directing the third Vacation instalment because of this) and it appears that Heckerling didn’t have a great time with her lead, either.
She has stated in past interviews that Cher, the central character from her hit film Clueless, was supposed to utter the line ‘Looking for a great guy in a high school is like looking for meaning in a Chevy Chase movie’ until the studio head intervened, insisting she change it to the name of another comedy actor.
But whatever disharmony occurred behind the scenes, the resulting film doesn’t bear the noticeable marks of an unhappy shoot. This is a fun, disarmingly daft and sometimes anarchic comedy (the breakneck montage of the family taking in the sights of the Louvre scored to the raucous French punk classic ‘Ça plane pour moi’ is an utter delight) which may not have aged particularly well, but created the template for many of those future Hollywood culture clash representations.
The visual collage which accompanies the end credits, featuring all things beloved of American culture from that era, celebrates the fact that the Griswolds are safely back on home turf. It was just as much fun seeing them in tacky lederhosen and escaping from a baying mob of otherwise peaceful Bavarian villagers, however.
Read on about other classmates from 1985…
Most Likely to Win in the End:
Most Likely to get your Man in Motion:
Most Likely to make an inappropriate joke while arching an eyebrow: