“I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road.” Long ago would be 30 years as of tomorrow, because National Lampoon’s Vacation opened theatrically on July 29, 1983. Directed by Harold Ramis, the family road movie was written by former “National Lampoon” staffer John Hughes, based on a short story of his published in the magazine. The comedy debuted at the top of the box office, knocking out Jaws 3-D in its sophomore weekend, keeping Return of the Jedi back in its tenth and besting fellow newcomers Krull and Private School. And it stayed at #1 through mid-August. Americans were clearly in love with rising star Chevy Chase, though they may have been even more in love with the relatable premise of a cross-country outing.
We may not have known it at the time, but it was also a sign we were in love with Hughes’s writing, as both Vacation and Mr. Mom, which he scripted and which opened in limited release a week prior, both were among the highest-grossing comedies of the year, each with a then-remarkable take of more than $60m. Vacation has probably the greater legacy, in part because it kicked off a never-ending franchise (another sequel/reboot is currently in the works for next summer) and in part because millions are still enjoying the original to this day. Very little outside of the model of car and styles of clothing (and some notable political incorrectness) is dated. And the following favorite scenes are still as fun and funny as they were three decades ago.
Praise Marty Moose.
Why not start with the opening credits sequence? Just about every part of Vacation is worthy of inclusion on this list (the really racist scene where they get lost in “the ‘hood” being one of the biggest exclusions; I’ve also never liked the dog-dragging bit) and the postcard-filled intro is pretty special, particularly for the super catchy weirdly bark-infused song by Lindsey Buckingham. Click play on the video below and you’ll have “Holiday roooooooooooooooooooooooooad. Holiday rooooooooooooooooad” in your head the rest of the day. And that’s not a bad thing. The end credits with Buckingham’s “Dancin’ Across the U.S.A.” over photos from the trip is a nice bookending compliment, too.
“The Ole Miss, the Old Man”
Even if the cast didn’t go everywhere the second-unit crew did, the establishing shots of the Family Truckster driving by places like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis make this movie genuinely feel like a filmed road trip. Here is another of the less-celebrated moments in Vacation proving that there are just so many great little scenes and quotable lines. One of these days I’m going to take a cross-country quest of fun with my wife and kids, and you can bet I’ll be reciting things like Clark’s overlong answer to Audrey’s question of what river they’re going over. I doubt my Paul Robeson impression will be as good as Chevy Chase’s. By the way, isn’t it terrific that there’s a Paul Robeson impression in a broad Hollywood comedy?
Skinny Dipping in the Motel Pool
One of the more famous scenes in the movie, I just grew up finding it memorable for always trying to figure out if I can see any of Christie Brinkley’s naughty bits. Pretty sure she was one of my first childhood crushes thanks to this movie (and the Ferrari 308 was one of my first car crushes thanks to Brinkley). And I was likely so busy looking at her that I didn’t think too much about what a sleaze Clark is. He’s such a lovable dog, though, because his defensive explanations are so ridiculous. How else do we defensively explain how much we love a character who is so terrible? He flirts and goes skinny dipping with models, robs hotels, hijacks an amusement park, swears at his family, gives his kid a beer and the offenses go on and on and on through at least three more movies.
“Daddy Says I’m the Best”
All the more enjoyable now that Jane Krakowski is all grown up and even funnier with inappropriate dialogue (man, we’re going to miss 30 Rock), this brief moment — a quote we love if anything — is one of the more disturbingly hilarious in a movie chock full of early gross-out shtick. The then-teen actress plays Cousin Vicki, the pot-smoking, Jr. Pig contest-winning, bare-hand-Kool-Aid-stirring daughter of Eddie. While one of her siblings was born without a tongue, she apparently got to use hers to practice French kissing with her daddy. It’s almost too wrong — and too stereotypical of poor hick characters — to be funny, but the shock brings on the uncontrollable uncomfortable laughs.
“You’ll Be Whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ Out of Your Assholes!”
One of the many reminders that this is an R-rated comedy comes in the form of the familiar dad-goes-nuts part of any family road trip. Most patriarchs just swear a lot, though. Clark goes so far as to call his wife and kids “fucked in the head.” And he has some really colorful ways of swearing, including the line above, which is particularly amusing if you always keep the Disneyland-bound origins of the plot in mind. I still laugh at this scene so hard I almost need that plastic surgeon to remove my smile, too. Do any other now-grown Vacation fans of this movie call your own family trips “quests for fun”? If not, you’re not a real fan.
Arrival at Wally World
When I was a kid, my brothers and I would often run in slow motion while humming the “Chariots of Fire” theme. I’d never seen that movie (I still haven’t). I knew what the song was, though, and yet I still forever associate the music with the parking lot race in this movie. Vacation borrowed an iconic scene from a recent movie and made it even more iconic in the process. It’s like a movie scene version of Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watch Tower” or Bob Dylan’s version of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” And at the end of the race, of course, we have the disappointment of finding out Wally World is closed. When I was a kid, seeing Clark Griswold punch that moose was one of the funniest things ever.
Be sure to check out our post on the 30 Things We Learned From the ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ Commentary. And chime in below with your favorite scene from the movie. Do you like the pee-soaked sandwich gag? The car crash in the desert? Dodge City? Surely you’ll say I’m lacking in Cousin Eddie footage. Heck, let’s all just go watch the whole movie on iTunes or Amazon Instant or XBox…