Home Alone’s Last Minute Addition of Old Man Marley Changed the Ending of a Classic

Home Alone would have always been a hit, but changes made to the ending turned it into a Christmas classic.

Old Man Marley in Home Alone ending with granddaughter
Photo: 20th Century Studios / Disney

You know what they say about Old Man Marley, the South Bend Shovel Slayer? Back in ’58, he murdered his whole family and half the people on a suburban Chicago block with a snow shovel. He’s been hiding out there ever since, disguising the remains of his misdeeds by turning victims to mummies, and using the dust off their bones to salt our streets.

That’s what the kids in the McCallister house tell each other every cold December night when the lonely stranger played by Roberts Blossom appears outside their window. It’s of course a lie, but the truth was originally a lot more enigmatic in the early drafts of the Home Alone screenplay penned by John Hughes, who was a maestro of family and youth entertainment during the 1980s and early ‘90s.

At its inception, Home Alone was both a departure and a return to the well for Hughes. Apparently first imagined by the filmmaker during an unhappy European vacation with his family—Hughes was always a nervous traveler, perhaps because 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles was based on his actual lived experienceHome Alone was Hughes’ second consecutive Christmas movie following the smash hit of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Also alongside Uncle Buck (1989), Home Alone amounted to a return to the youth audience demo after Hughes dabbled with more mature films like the aforementioned Planes, Trains and She’s Having a Baby (1988).

One of those latter two films was a hit, but the one that failed was, ironically enough, Hughes’ baby; a passion project that didn’t fly. Afterward, the producer returned not only to films with youthful protagonists, such as his “Brat Pack” hits from the early and mid-‘80s, but now movies told entirely from a child’s point-of-view. And on the page, Kevin McCallister was originally meant to be Ferris Bueller in pint-sized form. He was precious, cool, and utterly unflappable. Also like Ferris telling you to go home, it’s over, Kevin at first got to end Home Alone on a laugh in the earliest draft.

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In the first several iterations of Home Alone‘s script, the film still ended with Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) being reunited with his mother (Catherine O’Hara) and the rest of the family. But the last we saw of him is when his father (John Heard) asks what he did while they were gone. “Oh, just hung around,” Kevin smirks. One can practically imagine the freeze frame pause on his smile and hear Yello purring, “Ooooh yeeaah,” from the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off soundtrack.

(To be fair, other versions of the script included one more scene that would have appeared as a mid-credits sequence with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Harry and Marv sitting in jail on Christmas Day, watching TV in the day room when they recognize dialogue from a little movie called Angels with Filthy Souls. “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna give you, Snakes. I’m gonna give you…”)

This is more or less the movie audiences fell in love with in 1990 and have been watching from one generation to the next every Christmas since. However, there is a key and emotionally crucial bit missing: Old Man Marley being reunited with his granddaughter and estranged son on Christmas morning. That’s because it was never a Hughes invention; the idea came from the film’s director, Chris Columbus.

The filmmaker, who at the age of 31 had only helmed two movies prior to Home Alone, realized that as adorable as Kevin was, the movie would benefit from a more emotionally cathartic core. Which is to say it needed a little more Christmas magic. As Columbus told Business Insider for Home Alone’s 30th anniversary, “I think probably the biggest thing I brought was Old Man Marley in the church. Not the conversation, but I added the moment when Marley talked about not being able to see his granddaughter.”

In the original draft, Old Man Marley, the alleged South Bend Slayer, did make small talk in the House of Worship with Kevin on Christmas Eve. Functionally, it provided another example of Kevin facing his fear and realizing folks are not what they appear. It also set up Hughes’ idea of having Marley save Kevin’s life with a shovel. Although as first scripted, the old-timer simply smashes Harry and Marv’s faces in and then winks, “A little trick I learned in South Bend.”

That could’ve been the last we saw of Marley, which in typical Hughes fashion leaves open to interpretation whether he might really have been the Shovel Slayer. Ergo, it was Columbus’ idea to reveal the lonely old man misses a son he quarreled with, and a granddaughter he never knew.

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“I also added the very end of the movie when Kevin sees that Marley is reunited with his granddaughter,” Columbus said in 2020. “That is probably my proudest addition to the movie.”

There’s a reason to find pleasure from that. It was still a Hughes scripted moment—Columbus wrote a version and two days later Hughes sent his rewrite of the addition to the director—but it had a certain level of warmth and cheer that escapes Christmas Vacation or, indeed, Ferris Bueller. When Kevin looks out a window and sees Old Man Marley reunited with the granddaughter, and composer John Williams’ most angelic musical reverie, a choral ode to Christmas titled “Somewhere in My Memory,” rises to the heavens, it is the stuff Yuletide dreams are made of.

In another 2020 interview with The Today Show, Columbus said, “I think the comedy really still works, and I also think the emotional part of Home Alone is there. It’s very emotional for people when Marley reunites with his son and granddaughter at the end of the movie. It’s just so incredibly touching. It just ties into the holiday season.” And it always will.