A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Ollie Hopnodle’s Haven of Bliss

August 7, 2010

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss

Amanda and I are spending some time on Cape Cod this weekend, so it’s time for some traditional annual movie viewing. Everybody has, of course, seen A Christmas Story (which TBS shows literally twenty-four hours a day on Christmas) but not everybody has seen this other movie, also written and narrated by Jean Shepherd. As with Christmas Story this is a series of anecdotes about growing up in the fifties, this time centered on summer vacation. The irony is that the vacation spot mentioned in the title of the movie is not actually the location where most of the film takes place. Instead Ollie Hopnoodle’s is a sort of idyllic destination – the goal for which every action in the movie brings the hero’s family a little closer. It’s very much a case of the journey being more of the point of the vacation than the destination.

Just like yesterday’s movie this one is a is a quest story. It’s the story of the same family from Christmas Story (whiny little brother Randy, narrator Ralph and their parents) as they prepare for and make their epic journey to Clear Lake and the little rustic cabins of Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss. Before they can even make the trip however there are adventures to be had: Ralph gets a gruelling job hauling furniture for a beastly boss (played by writer Jean) and the family dog Fuzzhead runs off and has to be found. The family doesn’t even set of on their road-trip until the movie is about half way over.

What makes the movie great is the feel of a homespun narrative. Jean Shepherd’s homespun tales are so easy to relate to, even when the action is set in the fifties. Who hasn’t crammed so much stuff for a short vacation into a car that the vehicle could barely move? Who hasn’t gone on a long car trip with a whiny car-sick little sibling? Who hasn’t wondered about what sort of person actually buys lawn ornaments from roadside vendors? Sure the narration is the ultimate example of telling rather than showing, but that’s sort of the appeal of the movie. It’s like a guided tour of Jean’s childhood.

There are a few quotes from this movie that Amanda and I use on a pretty frequent basis. The delivery that Jerry O’Connel (as Ralph) gives to the line “Boy is it early” when the family is trying to get up to beat the traffic is perfect for just about any early morning endeavor. Ralph’s father at one point claims that he is “just resting my eyes,” which is almost a running gag with Amanda’s entire family. And for some bizarre reason neither Amanda nor I can mention a bathmat without quoting the conversation Ralph’s parents have when they’re packing the car. “Did you remember the bathmat?” “Bathmat? What do we need a bathmat for?” “I don’t know… it might be nice.” Indeed I’d say that my favorite performance in the movie is that of Dorothy Lyman as Ralph’s mother. She over-acts like crazy, but the chipper cheerfulness she displays in the face of every setback and her shrill voice never fail to amuse and charm me.

Amanda and I have watched this movie every summer since we first started dating in 1995 (and I gather that it has been a family tradition for her to watch it almost since the movie first came out in 1988.) As such the whole thing has a feel of warm familiarity to it. Knowing that I was going to be watching it again tonight I started to anticipate favorite bits in the film. The nightmare that Ralph has of the looming refrigerator. The bee in the car. The windmill and the truck full of chickens. Jean’s stories are fun tales of every-child growing up already, but when you’ve seen and heard them every summer for fifteen years or more they almost become a part of your own life. Just as for Ralph summer vacation doesn’t begin until he and his family reach Ollie Hopnoodle our vacation seems incomplete without revisiting this movie.

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

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