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Many would consider Christmas Vacation to be a holiday classic. But does it rank up there with It’s a Wonderful Life? Some may think so, but Chevy Chase isn’t among them. In fact, he doesn’t seem to see the sense in comparing the two films.
Rolling Stone recently ran an oral history of Jeremiah Chechik’s 1989 comedy Christmas Vacation. It’s full of interesting facts about the production of the film, and leads into the cast's thoughts on the reaction to the movie in the years that have followed its release. Chevy Chase apparently finds it silly that anyone would compare the movie to Frank Capra’s beloved It’s A Wonderful Life.
Comparing Christmas Vacation to It's A Wonderful Life is the silliest thing. That film starred the greatest movie actor of all time and the idea that our movie could ever be connected in some fashion to something so brilliant and beautiful always made feel like, "That's all they had to write about?" It's very flattering and I suppose Christmas Vacation is a modern look at Christmas. But James Stewart, my God! What a movie. I could talk about that one all day. Frank Capra's grandson was a second Assistant Director on Christmas Vacation.
Chase’s modesty is nice, as is his appreciation for It’s A Wonderful Life. He says it all with "James Stewart, my God!"
Still, it’s been twenty-five years since Christmas Vacation arrived in theaters. I think it’s fair to file it under Christmas classic. And it that respect, it can be put on a shelf next to It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and the other holiday-themed movies that we watch every year around Christmas, right? Christmas Vacation just happens to be one that seeks to make us laugh, and it succeeds year after year.
And if we want to dig a bit deeper, we could compare plots and note that Clark Griswold is a loving husband and father who wants the best for everyone he cares about, just as George Bailey does. But both characters have their breaking points. Except instead of getting into a bar fight and pondering suicide, Clark Griswold throws an epic Christmas fit.
George Bailey had Clarence to bring his life into proper perspective. Clark Griswold’s guardian angel turned out to be Eddie, whose heart, as Clark notes, is bigger than his brain. ("Appreciate that, Clark.")
Now let’s all take a moment to imagine what It’s A Wonderful Life might have been like if, instead of showing George what the world would’ve been like without George Bailey, Clarence dragged Potter back to the Bailey house bound and gagged, and forced him to admit he took the money.
Ok, that probably goes against the spirit of It’s A Wonderful Life, but in all seriousness, and with all due respect to Chevy Chase, I don’t think it’s silly to compare the two movies if we're talking about movies that have stood the test of time. Both tap into the best of the holiday spirit, both treasure the value of family, and both are must-watch movies during the holidays.
In the words of Eddie, "Merry Christmas. Shitter was full."