National Lampoon's European Vacation


<div style="float:left">
<script type="text/javascript"><!--
google_ad_client = "pub-9764823118029583";
/* 125x125, created 12/10/07 */
google_ad_slot = "8167036710";
google_ad_width = 125;
google_ad_height = 125;
<script type="text/javascript"

While not nearly as funny as its 1983 predecessor, director Amy Heckerling’s attempt to tackle and tame The Griswolds, in 1985, as they trample abroad is still entertaining.  The film is, once again, written by the late John Hughes, but there’s a reason why this one is regarded as the least revisited of the four in the series.  While it does have some great physical comedy bits, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, about halfway in, trades some sharp satire for general low-brow crudeness.

In the opening scene, Clark "Sparky" Griswald (Chevy Chase), his supportive wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), and their ever-changing teenage children Audrey (Dana Hill) and Rusty (Jason Lively) win a European Vacation as pig-dressed contestants on ‘Pig in a Poke’, a game show hosted by Kent Winkdale (John Astin).  While this is supposed to be a play on ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and Wink Martindale, the entire gag is a bit, well, a tad dated and unfunny.  Yet, the family makes it to Europe and, as soon as they get there, the hilarity ensues.  They physically run into (again and again) a cyclist (Eric Idle), a Hostel cohort (Robbie Coltrain), an English motorist (Ballard Berkeley, who played in the BBC’s Fawlty Towers), and one of German’s finest actors, Willy Millowitsch as their assumed relative whom they stay overnight with in Northern Germany and share some Weiner (“God, I Miss Jack”) schnitzel and sauerkraut with.

As expected, Europe is no match for The Griswolds.  Once off on their accidentally won excursion, the family finds themselves at odds with everything European.  Not even Stonehenge remains in place.  Why?  Because they are the ‘Ugly Americans Abroad’, and series of gags showcasing this fact is when the film works best.  They are supposed to be pigs as the “Ambassadors of America” and everything they assume or don’t, based on their experiences in America, is what plays well on-screen.  Yes, Hughes’ writing is stereotypical in its undoing of European culture, but when the movie works at such things, it absolutely works: Chase behind the wheel, never able to make a left turn, and his physical comedy bits are pretty spot-on here under Heckerling’s direction, so is his mispronunciation of the French language.  Classic.  Or this exhange onboard the airplane:

Stewardess: Can I get you anything to drink?

Clark Griswold: Honey? I guess I'll have a Coke.

Stewardess: Do you want that in the can?

Clark Griswold (looking back toward the bathroom): No, I'll have it right here.

Don’t get too excited.  The clever dialogue and witty jokes are few and far between this time out, though.  Of course, there is wonderful banter between D’Angelo and Chase but National Lampoon’s European Vacation can’t hold its seams together without reaching out to some fairly lascivious moments that don’t seem to be genuine.  Maybe seeing a teenager “score” with some German barhop would be funny in other films (certainly EuroTrip plays with the low-brow bits better), but certainly not the best of material for The Griswolds.

The film also suffers from being a bit dated in its material (more so than its predecessor, ironically enough).  And then there is a huge shift in the film, occurring about 80 minutes into the feature, when we suddenly get an unfunny hostage situation in which D’Angelo is kidnapped and Chase must rescue her.  It’s bloated, silly, and sort of ruins the comedy of the picture by injecting a sense of danger into the picture.  While it fits the mood of 1985, it most certainly doesn’t fit the tone of the film.  It’s rather pointless, too.

But the comedy of The Griswolds is brought back down to earth with a silent movie homage in one of the final scenes of National Lampoon’s European Vacation that is a pretty brilliant physical comedy bit by Chase in which he attempts to eat airline food.  For me, the film is salvaged by these ingenious add-ons that Heckerling sprinkles the film with.  She doesn’t do it once, but three times in montage format.  Here, at the end of the picture, it works best.

While the actors love playing these parts, Heckerling’s film weakens slightly from being a bit to broad in its treatment of The Griswolds as it trades the cleverness of the original with some crude self-indulgence (1) in being part of the National Lampoon franchise, and (2) being a product of 1985, certainly a low point in American cinema production values.  Not a fantastic film by any stretch of the imagination, National Lampoon’s European Vacation is certainly a valued part of the Vacation series, which – in retrospect - would soon a lot better just in time for the Christmas spirit.

Component Grades
3 Stars
3 Stars
DVD Experience
2.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 10, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; French: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono (Spain)
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Because this isn’t the R-rated version, some of the audio and editing issues haven’t been fixed which is unfortunate.  The transfer, though, is presented in 1080p source formatting, although it doesn’t fix its grainy appearance.  Like I said, 1985 wasn’t the best year in American filmmaking and, while the Blu-ray does present the film in the best possible format, it can’t quite fix the color drops and overall appearance of the movie.

Because this is one of the final monophonic releases for Warner Brothers, the original audio is a bit spotty but is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, with Dolby Digital tracks in French and Spanish, and subtitles in all those languages.



  • There is one commentary by Chase alone.  It’s a carry-over from the 2002 DVD release, so nothing new there.  He doesn’t talk much, but does make it enjoyable when he does with his thoughts on comedy, his inspirations, and the actors he works with.