A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 160 – Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss – August 7th, 2010

I feel a little bad reviewing things like this and The Norman Conquests. This movie and those ones are favorites of my family, obtained ages ago by some means that no longer exist, and now difficult or impossible to find. But since my family loves them so, we’ve babied our copies long enough for me to grab them and include them in the project. So I’m sorry. I apologize wholeheartedly that such treasures are so hard to get, and that I am pretty much taunting you by talking about how much I love them.

I am going to guess that most people reading this have seen the classic Christmas movie A Christmas Story. You know, the one with the leg lamp and the the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle and the pink bunny suit and Scut Farkus? Yeah, you’ve seen that. Everyone’s seen that, or at least heard of it. You can buy those lamps now every Christmas. Well, what isn’t as commonly known is that there are other movies about Ralphie and his family, based on the writings of Jean Shepherd. I’m pretty sure we happened upon this one by accident on PBS, but we were so taken with it, it became an instant classic in my family. Every year it must be watched or the summer isn’t complete. This is the story of Ralphie when he’s fourteen and how he spends his summer. It was made for tv and it stars a young but post-Stand By Me Jerry O’Connell as Ralphie. And I love it dearly.

This is a very episodic movie. While it has an overarching plot and focuses around a specific time period, it moves from vignette to vignette within that plot and time. Ralphie is fourteen here and old enough to get working papers so he can get his first job. That’s vignette number one, but set within the context of said job making it impossible for him to go on the traditional family vacation to the lake. Of course said job is horrible, and intercut with scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It inspires horrible nightmares and Ralphie hates it passionately. Meanwhile, the family dog goes missing and Ralphie’s mother declares that she’s not going on vacation either unless the dog is found beforehand. The dog’s name, by the way, is Fuzzhead, and the search for the dog involves Ralphie’s mother screeching it over and over. It’s not sophisticated humor, but it never fails to make me laugh my ass off. Dorothy Lyman, who plays the mother, really does a fantastic job. Much as I love the mother in A Christmas Story this version is great too. Her voice is instantly hilarious and recognizable.

I’ve always felt like the first section of the movie, with those two stories, takes a huge amount of time. Not in a bad way, but it feels like a lot happens, so it must take a lot of time. But the movie is only an hour and a half and there’s a whole later section full of little bits too. The family does end up going on vacation to the lake, staying at Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (where the cabins are named after the Dionne Quintuplets), but you don’t really see the lake. The point is the road trip to it. Along the way there’s a truck full of chickens, a motorized mini windmill, a bee in the car and some cows. But every single encounter is quietly humorous (or screechingly, if Ralphie’s mother gets excited). Everything in the movie is presented in lovingly mocking nostalgia. It’s a tribute to the classic family road trip, complete with the overpacked car full of items you’ll never use, car sickness, roadside attractions, detours to nowhere, car trouble and the inevitable sibling bickering.

The movie as a whole feels a little patchy. It moves from bit to bit not entirely smoothly, but it’s all great fun, so I’ve never so much minded that. There’s an attempt to wrap the two sections of the movie together by showing the family waking up to get on the road to Ollie’s, then backtracking to describe how the vacation almost didn’t happen. It’s a valiant effort, but ends up not really doing a whole lot other than making the movie lap itself. What really does a better job of tying everything together is Jean Shepherd’s narration. If you’ve seen A Christmas Story then you know the sort of feel it has to it. There’s a fondness for the events combined with some self-deprecating humor. The sort of humor that only comes with distance from one’s past actions. It’s told both as a heartfelt story about youthful summer vacations and how they exist as perfect in our memories even if they were anything but, and as a collection of anecdotes. It feels like the sort of thing that happens around the table at holidays in my family. Sure, we were all there that year when we rented the house with the lumpy beds and the roaches and the closet full of Nancy Drew books and the dogs got into the fridge and ate the leftover pizza. But we tell the story anyhow, because we enjoy it, and we enjoy remembering it.

Watching this with my father this evening, on my second to last day of vacation, I am reminded of many summers of my own childhood. I know my parents love this movie because many of the things in it speak to their own childhoods, even if there are a bunch of anachronisms like crock pots and mentions of Mario Andretti. I love it because it’s incredibly funny and because it’s part of my family’s summer tradition, itself a part of stories we tell and references we make (favorites include a great line about a bathmat and the bee in the car dance). Rather fitting, I think, even if it’s ushering out my vacation instead of ushering it in. It’s a nice way to remember that summer’s still got a few weeks left.

August 7, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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