For years after first seeing National Lampoon’s Vacation I was hooked on Chevy Chase films. Stepping back in time I sought out his earlier work such as Foul Play, Caddyshack and Seems Like Old Times while enjoying his eighties and early nineties output like Fletch, Three Amigos and Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
His career nosedived in the mid-nineties thanks to a misguided attempt to established a more dramatic career and he never recovered. The actor, who was one of the founding members of Saturday Night Live, recently popped up in eighties throwback Hot Tub Time Machine alongside John Cusack. That served as a handy reminder to revisit and re-enjoy Chase’s finest adventures in film.
10. Spies Like Us (Landis, 1985)
Spies Like Us still gets a mixed reception from audiences but this comedy about two inept secret agents is great because of the pairing of 80s greats Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.
9. Funny Farm (Hill, 1988)
This fish-out-of-water tale see Chevy Chase playing sports writer Andy Farmer who decides to quit his job and move to a small town to write a novel. It doesn’t go to plan as Andy falls foul to small town living.
8. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Carpenter, 1992)
Almost universally panned on its release, Memoirs of an Invisible Man does indeed suffer from an identity crisis as one critic put it. Incorporating comedy, drama, science-fiction and mystery the film is at odds with its director and star. Apparently, Ivan Reitman was originally set to direct the film. He would have been a better bet had the film concentrated on comedy. But creative differences between Reitman and Chase led to a change at the helm and John Carpenter took over. It was an odd choice, certainly from a commercial perspective, as Carpenter’s fleeting use of science-fiction and comedy (They Live [ link to top ten carpenter]) previously didn’t set the box office alight.
And the film does suffer from this disjointed set of creative specialities. Chase handles the comedy with the finesse of an old pro, while Carpenter concocts some genuine thrills and makes use of excellent special-effects. But the film never knows if it’s a funny, adventure movie or a thriller with the odd funny scene. Chase saw this project as a route into more serious roles. Unfortunately, the film was not only ripped to shreds by the critics, but made less than half its budget at the box office. Instead of being a career progression for Chase, it proved to be a low point of which the actor has never recovered.
Nevertheless, it is different from anything else the actor has done before or since, and remains an enjoyable if messy version of the invisible man story.
7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Chechik, 1989)
A Christmas favourite for so many, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation saw Chavy Chase reprise his most famous role for a third time. Christmas Vacation is a much better film than the first sequel to Harold Ramis’ hit original about the exploits of the accident prone Griswold family.
6. Foul Play (Higgins, 1978)
A homage to Alfred Hitchcock, Colin Higgins’ film finds Chevy Chase and a delightful Goldie Hawn caught up in the murder-mystery plot.
5. Three Amigos (Landis, 1986)
Superb casting sees Chevy Chase lined up alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short. The trio play silent film stars The Three Amigos who, in their films, perform acts of justice against evil villains. Believing them to be real, a small Mexican village hires their services when the townspeople are threatened by a gang wanting protection money. Wires are crossed as the Amigos believe they have been hired to put on a live, theatrical show. Soon enough the real threat becomes evident and the actors have to decide to fight or take flight.
4. Seems Like Old Times (Sandrich, 1980)
Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn are back together in this delightful comedy about a down-on-his-luck writer who becomes a fugitive after being forced to rob a bank. He seeks help from the only person he can trust – ex-wife Glenda (Hawn) – who allows him to stay at her house. The only trouble is her district attorney husband who would love to get his hands on the fugitive. The film is one of Chase’s best thanks to some great performances (Chase is ably supported by Goldie Hawn and Charles Grodin as Hanw’s husband) and Neil Simon’s witty script.
3. Caddyshack (Ramis, 1980)
More of an ensemble film than a Chevy Chase vehicle, Caddyshack remains a favourite amongst fans thanks to its risqué humour and brilliant cast of characters including Bill Murray as a nice-but-dim greenskeeper and Rodney Dangerfield, a rich, loud-mouthed gold enthusiast. Chevy Chase is a member of the upscale Bushwood Country Club where he plays gold of a regular basis. He spend much of his time teaching caddie Danny Noonan about life while showing off his array of trick shots.
2. Fletch (Ritchie, 1985)
Now firmly a favourite amongst Chevy Chase fans, Fletch was a success for the actor at the box office and within the eyes of critics. Since it was released it has gone from strength to strength, gaining a strong following and inspiring sequel Fletch Lives. Based on the popular novels by Gregory McDonald, Fletch tells the story of quick-witted, smooth-talking newspaper reporter Irwin M. Fletcher (Chase). While investigating the drug trade for his latest story, he disguises himself as a homeless junkie who wanders the beach in search of his next hit. One day he is approached by Alan Stanwyk who asks Fletch to murder him. Apparently, Stanwyk has an inoperable disease and wants his family to receive his life insurance. Fletch agrees after being offer a large amount of money but is suspicious of Stanwyk’s motives. Stanwyk has no clue Fletch is an undercover reporter, believing him to be a street bum of no consequence. When Fletch digs deeper he finds that Stanwyk does indeed have a few skeletons in the closet and the whole murder plot maybe a set-up.
Fletch is Chase’s favourite movie. It is easy to see why – he obviously has a lot of fun with the character. Fletch uses many disguises allowing Chase to take on various personas, highlighting his talent at depicting character-based comedy. Director Michael Ritchie also allowed the actor to ad-lib throughout the film, giving Chase another dimension to explore the character with.
1. National Lampoon’s Vacation (Ramis, 1982)
Chevy Chase’s most memorable character has to be Clark W. Griswold. He is the disaster-prone father and husband of the Griswolds, a family who set out on a journey from Chicago to Los Angeles to spend a day at theme park Walley World. Along the way things don’t go to plan. However, that doesn’t stop Clark making sure his family have the time of their lives. And, when they eventually get to the theme park and find it’s closed for maintenance, Clark decides he is not going to take no for an answer. So he kidnaps the security guard (John Candy) and forces him to take the family on all the rides. Chevy Chase is great as Clark in Harold Ramis’ funny and endearing road trip comedy.
Written and compiled by Dan Stephens.
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