MOTW: Five Facts about "Home Alone"

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
December 24th, 2013

MOTW: Five Facts about "Home Alone"

"Home Alone" came out of nowhere in the 1990 holiday season to become the highest grossing film of the year. Chris Columbus, who directed the smash hit, and John Hughes, who penned the script, took audiences on a journey with Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) as he navigated his way through a series of adventures after being left home alone by his family. A mix of comic hijinks, warm holiday drama, and a Looney Tunes-esque series of pratfalls, "Home Alone" continues to be a seasonal favorite with families everywhere.

One of the Highest Grossing Comedies of All Time

When "Home Alone" appeared in theaters in November 1990, critics instantly dismissed the film. Despite the critical drubbing, the film caught on with audiences, soon becoming not only the highest-grossing motion picture of the year but also one of the highest-grossing live-action comedies of all time according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Its audience-pleasing storyline led to a sequel in 1992 and a third film that went a completely different direction in 1997. Regardless of the qualities of its sequels, the original "Home Alone" was a huge pop culture phenomenon, with its success forcing several critics to rethink their original stances. Even Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel re-reviewed the film on "Siskel & Ebert," going a bit easier on the movie the second time around while pointing to its slapstick comedy as part of its charm. That charm and comic timing led to multiple weekends at the top of the box office charts, along with a slew of merchandise, including a "Home Alone" video game.

Reference to Classic Films

While "Home Alone" may seem steeped in its early '90s atmosphere and modern cinematography, it contains several nods to classic cinema. Throughout the film (and its subsequent sequel), Kevin McAllister watches a videotape of a movie called "Angels with Filthy Souls." A nod to the 1938 crime classic "Angels with Dirty Faces," this parody even features an actor mimicking the great James Cagney to hilarious effect. The ham-fisted acting and staccato rhythm of the acting perfectly captures the feel of those old films from the '30s. Kevin uses the film's over-the-top violence to scare off the Wet Bandits at one point. One of those Wet Bandits, Harry (Joe Pesci), was named after Harry Lime, a character played by the great Orson Welles in "The Third Man."

John Candy's Cameo

The great, late John Candy makes an extended cameo appearance in "Home Alone" as Gus Polinski, "the Polka King of the Midwest." Not only is this part a clever nod to another Hughes/Candy holiday collaboration ("Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"), it was also filmed in less than a day. While Candy's role is pivotal to the final act and Kevin being reunited with his mom Kate (Catherine O'Hara), all his scenes were shot within 23 hours.

Keeping It Family Friendly

In 1990, Joe Pesci was better known for his violent roles in films such as "Raging Bull," "Lethal Weapon 2," and "GoodFellas," rather than comedies focused on children. While "Home Alone" does play with Pesci's tough-guy image, it does so in a family-friendly way, cutting out some of the rougher edges of his persona. Going the PG route wasn't easy for Pesci though, he continuously slipped into old habits by accidentally swearing during the moments when his character Harry mutters furiously at himself. Director Columbus offered a suggestion to Pesci: use the word fridge instead to keep the movie from dipping into adult territory. Thus, when you hear Harry muttering to himself onscreen, the word fridge can be heard loud and clear. Of course, that doesn't mean Pesci kept his method-acting skills to himself. He was known to stay away from Culkin before filming, so he could instill fear into the young boy during the few scenes they had together.

The Furnace

Who can forget the dastardly furnace in Kevin's basement? As a figment of a child's imagination, it drove home the universal fear all children face when being left alone at home for the first time. That fear of the dark corners of a home is what drives Kevin to eventually face his misgivings about responsibility and take on the burglars before they rob his family's home. In the original draft of "Home Alone," the entire house came alive, complete with walking nutcrackers, creating an entire terror-filled home for Kevin to face and defeat. Unfortunately, budget constraints meant these visions of traumatizing household items would be constrained to the furnace, which ultimately felt far more effective in capturing those adolescent fears and worries.