John Hughes: The Later Years

Carley checks out the Home Alones, The Great Outdoors, Christmas Vacation, Dutch and Career Opportunities...

Between 1988 and 1991 John Hughes was a busy man. Not only had he written and directed two well received films, She‘s Having A Baby and Uncle Buck, but he had also written scripts for no less than five other movies with one of them becoming the most successful live action comedy of all time.

The first of these pictures was 1988’s The Great Outdoors. Teaming up with Pretty In Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful director, Howard Deutch, it pairs Hughes favourite John Candy with one of the kings of 80s comedy, Dan Aykroyd.

An enjoyable comedy piece, Candy plays Chet Ripley who is on vacation with his wife Connie (Stephanie Faracy) and their kids at their cabin on the lake. The unexpected happens when Connie’s sister Kate (Annette Bening in her first major film role) arrives with her yuppie husband Roman (Aykroyd) and their twins, after deciding to spend time with family rather than go on their planned European vacation.

Roman is more than happy to make everybody aware of his wealth and so-called expertise on all subjects and it doesn’t take Chet long to despise him. But for the sake of the vacation he manages to bite his tongue. After a driving rainstorm ensures that both families are trapped in the same cabin, Chet finally loses it and wants to leave. It is only then that he finds out Roman actually has lost his money on a bad investment and wants to borrow $25,000 from Chet.

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Fitting in nicely with the style Hughes had perfected in Planes, Trains And Automobiles, The Great Outdoors is mostly focused on the two leads playing off each other. And although there isn’t exactly the chemistry that Candy had with Steve Martin in the former, his portrayal of the laid back family man comes easy and he is an instantly likeable character and I can’t fault Aykroyd’s 80s yuppie know-it-all. Two of my favourite laugh-out-loud moments have to be with Chet eating his way through a 96 ounce steak to impress his family and the rubbish-raiding racoons; their subtitles are some of the best in the movie.

With his vacation over, Hughes jumped into the holidays instead with 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase reprises his role of Clark, head of the Griswold family and this year he really has been infected with the Christmas spirit and wants nothing more than to organise the perfect family get-together, starting with the perfect tree.

After digging an over the top tree out of the woods, he is mocked by his neighbours Todd (Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as well as breaking a few windows in trying to set it up. This isn’t the first decoration upset that Clark has and after managing to smash his neighbour’s stereo with a block of ice while hanging up lights, he soon becomes frustrated that they won’t light up. It takes his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) to realise he has put the plug into a socket with no power and when she plugs them in correctly the Griswold’s neighbours are again at the brunt of their festive activities by being blinded by the 25,000 lights and inadvertently smashing their house up trying to escape the shine.

With family starting to turn up, Christmas Eve slowly starts turning into a disaster. The turkey is cooked too long, the family cat is set on fire after it chews through the lights, and the Christmas tree is burnt down. 

There are also overlapping stories including Clark’s quest to get his end of year bonus, his obsession with a saleswoman he met while Christmas shopping, a manic squirrel out to terrorise the family and his attempt to make a decent Christmas for his nephew and niece. It would, however, take an entirely different Christmas movie to blast Hughes into the stratosphere and that movie was Home Alone.

The night before his family is due to jet off to Paris for the Christmas holidays, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) decides to make a stand. After being treated like a baby by his brothers and sisters and being ignored by his parents, he wants to be left alone, a wish that is granted when his family forget him when they leave in a rush the following day.

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Being man of the house suits Kevin. He can do what he wants when he wants, can eat what he wants and can watch what he wants. Life soon gets complicated, though, when two bungling burglars (the fantastic duo of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) decide to hit up the neighbourhood, with Kevin’s house being the prime target.

Unwilling to let them take over his house, Kevin arms up and the duo find they have taken on a bit more than they can chew.

In-between Kevin trying to keep the Wet Bandits out, his mother (Catherine O’Hara) is trying to make her way back ,ending up on a truck with the Polka King Gus Polinski (John Candy).

Home Alone is by far the best family comedy Hughes penned. I watch it every holiday season and I literally laugh until my eyes water each time.

Sticking with the Kids Vs Crooks theme, Hughes next script grew up slightly. Career Opportunities was directed by Bryan Gordon and starred Jennifer Connelly and Frank Whaley. On the night of his first shift as night janitor in Target, Jim (Whaley) is locked in the store by his boss. He soon comes across Josie (Connelly), a typical spoiled brat who has made a half hearted attempt to run away from home. The two soon hit it off but are soon caught up in a failed attempted robbery and are held hostage until they manage to turn the tables on their captors.

Hughes stuck with family comedy in his next script, Dutch, which starred Married…With Children’s Ed O’Neill as the title’s namesake. Dutch agrees to drive his girlfriend’s son home for the Thanksgiving holiday. When he arrives at the son’s school he finds that he is stuck up and looks down on Dutch because of his working class background. As with previous Hughes road movies, the unlikely pair meet with plenty of obstacles along the way and end up being friends by the time they make it home.

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As he was about to step in the director’s chair for the last time, Hughes had carved himself out a niche for quality family comedies but that was all to change with his next cinematic fare. Yes, we are coming to Curly Sue…