In January of 1990, a movie about an ingenious child who creates violent traps to protect his home against a Christmas Eve robbery opened in France, played for one week, and became a regional curiosity. In November of 1990, another movie about an ingenious child who creates violent traps to protect his home against a Christmas Eve robbery opened in America, played in first run for almost nine months, became a global phenomenon, and even set a Guinness World Record. Once, there was speculation that the latter was inspired by the former; it almost went to court. But on Boxing Day, Thursday December 26th, the New Beverly is playing them together, and letting you decide!
The latter film, Home Alone, quickly spiraled into legend during its initial theatrical run, and has only increased that status ever since. John Hughes’ screenplay and Chris Columbus’ directing deftly fuses classical Frank Capra-level sentimentality about self-reliance, family, and holiday revelry, with Tex Avery-level abandon in depicting violence and comical punishment. As Vox writer Tanya Pi wrote in 2017, “[There’s] something so elementally satisfying about this story: Kevin is picked on, ridiculed, shunted to the side, and, finally, forgotten. He gets to prove not just that he can survive without his family, but that he can do extraordinary things when there’s no one around to tell him he can’t…. It’s a message that resonates with anyone of any age who’s ever felt overlooked, ignored, or taken for granted – which is to say, everyone.” In 2015, Hughes’ son James Hughes, who would himself write the 2001 high school thriller New Port South with Will Estes and Michael Shannon, compiled an oral history of the making of Home Alone for Chicago Magazine, and obtained a particularly striking quote about the film’s relatability from its cinematographer, Julio Macat:
I have family in Torino, Italy. They loved it. I also have family in Argentina. In Italian, the movie is called Mom, I Lost the Plane. In Argentina, it’s Oh, the Poor Angel. Being foreign, I can tell you: Home Alone has an international theme. Other countries, especially poorer countries with less means, have to be more resourceful. So seeing a little kid who is resourceful and can protect his home resonated with everybody, especially kids who have nothing, who put together a toy from sticks and stones. I think that’s why everybody responded to it, because the theme is empowering kids.
Besides the indomitable performances of Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, and Catherine O’Hara, there are plenty of solid character actors to pay attention to. Playing the initially intimidating neighbor Mr. Marley is Roberts Blossom, who previously played ersatz Ed Gein surrogate Ezra Cobb in the 1974 Alan Ormsby horror film Deranged, on which Black Christmas and A Christmas Story director Bob Clark, a longtime Ormsby collaborator, served as an uncredited producer. Larry Hankin, playing Officer Balzak, has stood out as a founding member of the Second City offshoot comedy group The Committee with Howard Hesseman, in oddities as The Phynx and Evil Roy Slade, and more recently in guest roles on “Barry” and “Baskets’; he and Roberts Blossom both appeared in Don Siegel’s Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood. Uncle Frank, who compares Kevin’s abandonment to his misplacement of his reading glasses, is played by Gerry Bamman, a familiar face from The Secret of My Success, Hiding Out, and several episodes of “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” And Kristin Minter, briefly seen as Cousin Heather, would later be admonished by Vanilla Ice to, “Drop dat zero and get with a hero” in Cool As Ice.
Plenty of japes have been taken at Home Alone and its iconic presence. Snoop Dogg’s video for “Gin and Juice” opens with the rapper being left with his parents’ house all to himself and proclaiming him “Homeboy Alone.” Scott Thompson offered his own take on how to enjoy solitude in a “Kids in the Hall” sketch called “Homo Alone.” Articles have been written by experts in physics about the actual damage Kevin McAllister’s pranks could exact upon the human body, and Chris Peckover’s clever 2016 horror film Better Watch Out dramatized them. Macaulay Culkin has often appeared on TV and internet programs to look back on the legacy of his breakout movie, and made a commercial for Google Assistant in 2018 where he reenacted scenes from the movie. Google was also able to lure the reclusive Joe Pesci to film his own commercial afterward, where he and friends watch Culkin’s ad and react to it.
Meanwhile, somewhere back in a stately Parisian manor, young Thomas (Alain Lalanne), whose mutual passions are computers and action movies, is spending Christmas Eve with his wizened grandfather (Louis Ducreux) while his mother (Brigitte Fossey) is called in to work at her upscale department store. Noodling around with a proto-internet device that connects him to shopping and messaging, Thomas thinks he’s made contact with St. Nick himself, but it’s actually a dangerously unhinged drifter (Patrick Floersheim) who, finding out the family’s luxurious standard of living, makes his way to the mansion to pull a reverse Santa and steal some things. And after the spurious saint makes a most violent entrance, the boy will have to use state-of-the-art technology and some pint-sized luck to elude what he thinks is Father Christmas’ angry rampage, making him rue the day he rung up Dial Code: Santa Claus.
In a 2018 interview with Rafael Motamayor for Polygon, writer/director René Manzor said he had noticed the wave of action-driven films from America, and wanted to create something to subvert their influence on a generation. The device portrayed in the film, the Minitel, was a real interactive technology of the time that performed tasks now made commonplace through internet and apps, and while using his, Manzor had inadvertently connected to a sex chatroom while trying to buy flowers, and imagined the possibilities of a child mistakenly contacting a criminal in a similar fashion. Manzor cast his own son Alain to play the lead, and notably cast revered actress Brigitte Fossey, who had made her screen debut at five years old in René Clément’s Oscar-winning WWII drama Forbidden Games, to play his mother. “I wanted to tell the story from the kid’s perspective, to wink at the audience and break the fourth wall like Deadpool… to make the audiences smile with a feeling for nostalgia for that time when you also dressed up as an action hero and felt powerful.”
Dial Code’s journey to American awareness has been long and strained. The completed film was offered for sale at Cannes in May 1989, but aside from an American offer to remake it in English, drew little buyer interest. In France, it only received a one-week contractual obligation run before finding more popularity on home video. Reactions were more enthusiastic at the 1990 Avoriaz and Sitges Fantastic Film Festivals, and the film won Best Picture and Best Director at Italy’s Fantafestival. The New York Times detailed in 1992 that Manzor attempted to obtain a settlement with Fox over the similarities between Dial Code and Home Alone, and when that failed, threatened a lawsuit, but none took place; Hughes consistently maintained he conceived the idea during a harried European trip with his family in the summer of 1989. However, the positive reception of Dial Code in festival play did circulate, and Manzor was hired to direct episodes of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” “The Hitchhiker,” and “Highlander: The Series” before returning to almost exclusively French-language projects. For many years, the film was unavailable in any upgrade from the previous VHS editions, floating around the world under various retitlings as Deadly Games, Wanted: Mr. X-Mas, and Game Over. In 2018, the American Genre Film Archive arranged for the first sanctioned U.S. screenings of Dial Code, and this year struck a 35mm print, which will be receiving its first-ever Los Angeles presentation at the New Beverly!
Ultimately, when measuring the enthusiastic reception now accorded to René Manzor’s previously under-the-radar predecessor and the parade of sequels, parodies, and reboot talks around John Hughes’ over-the-top classic, it’s clear there’s plenty of space and love for multiple tellings of how crafty children can outwit Christmas crooks. So after you’ve spent what will hopefully be a wonderful day of knocking around with your loved ones to enjoy some knockout comedy and action at the New Beverly.