They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And if you need demonstrable proof of that statement’s validity, look no further than the 1983 blockbuster comedy, National Lampoon’s Vacation. With its semi-autobiographical screenplay by teen angst-king John Hughes, the directing skills of Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day,) and a cast of wonderfully colorful characters, this chronicle of a suburban family’s summer road-trip vacation delivered laughs by the carload.
Clark Griswold is the average devoted family man, working long hours as a food-additive specialist in Chicago to support his wife Ellen, and children Rusty and Audrey. And when summer comes around, he decides that a good old-fashioned car trip might provide the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with the family. The destination is California – an amusement park called Wally World to be exact – and the whole family packs into an enormous green station wagon to embark on the vacation of a lifetime. But despite all of Clark’s good intentions and meticulous planning, everything that could possibly go wrong along the way, does go wrong. Horribly, terribly wrong.
First the family gets lost in a St. Louis ghetto, resulting in the new car being spray-painted and relieved of its hubcaps. Then the family stops in Kansas to visit Ellen’s dysfunctional relatives, cousins Catherine and Eddie and their equally dysfunctional offspring. While there, Clark is treated to such luxuries as warm beer and Hamburger Helper (without the hamburger) and hit up for money. He also is talked into giving crotchety old Aunt Edna and her dog a ride across the country (both of which don’t make it very far). Eventually, after encountering a run-in with the law, eating urine-soaked food, getting lost in the desert and swindled out of their cash by the locals, the family eventually makes it to Wally World, only to find that another shocking surprise awaits them.
If ever a comedy benefited from some truly wonderful casting, it was this one. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo played the Griswold parents, with a young Anthony Michael Hall appearing as son, Rusty. Randy Quaid gave a stellar performance as the bumbling cousin Eddy, as did the wonderful Imogene Coco as Aunt Edna. And funnyman John Candy delivers a wonderful cameo as a nerdy security guard at Wally World.
For its efforts, National Lampoon’s Vacation became a major hit, raking in over $60 million at the box office. Its popularity spawned a trio of sequels that took the Griswold family to Europe in 1985, then home for Christmas in 1989, and finally to Las Vegas in 1997. And with each adventure, Clark Griswold saw his best intentions decimated beyond comprehension. But at least hell turned out to be a pretty hilarious place for those watching.
If you have fond memories of National Lampoon’s Vacation, perhaps even have your own family road trip horror stories to share, we welcome all of your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this funny and endearing film.