The awesome thing about being totally and completely freelance? The ability to write and give opinion (an important word) based on my own judgements without outside influence. I have promised a review a day this month on the theme of horror, halloween, and general linkage between those. As an extra challenge I have decided to review classic movies every other day. As much as I love Beautiful Creatures, it is not a classic. Tonight however, I feel confident in ruling this a classic. The Addams Family.
Based on the works of Charles Samuel Addams (who at one point in his life lived on Elm Street) during his time as a cartoonist for the New Yorker. His cartoons, which weren’t always about the Family, ran from 1940 until his death in 1988. A syndicated show ran on ABC from 1964 until 1966 for 64 episodes. This is the series most people are familiar with and the iconic looks and personalities are most derived. I cannot in good conscience talk about the Addams family without discussing the raw, controlled storm of insanity and energy that is John Astin (and his eyes) in the role of Gomez. The beautifully gothic, gorgeous, and svelte vamp that is Carolyn Jones as the family matriarch Morticia. Jackie Coogans Fester and Ted Cassidy as Lurch (You Raaaaang). These were truly the creation of media icons that last half a century later. While the actors Wednesday and Pugsley originally were mostly forgettable, they too brought the comic characters to life with their look and personality, even with the children’s ages at 6 and 8. Even Hanna Barbara attempted an animated series in 1973, which only lasted 16 episodes. They even co starred in an episode of Scooby Doo, then again who didn’t.
In 1991, Barry (Men In Black) Sonnenfeld created a movie adaptation of the series as first directorial role. He had previously worked as a director of photography in such classics as Misery, Millers Crossing, and When Harry Met Sally. How he got into comedic movies after , I have no idea. I have to admit aging Wednesday and Pugsley was a good move to make them something a little more manageable and believable in many respects. He worked from a script by Caroline Thompson who had previously only worked on Edward Scissorhands. I suppose working with Burton helped her understand the atmosphere required for an Addams family film, she would later write the screenplay for Nightmare Before Christmas and the Corpse Bride. There is also a screenplay credit for Larry Wilson, best known for Beetlejuice. It is abundantly clear these two writers had the pedigree and background to understand the appropriate tone and character flavor for an Addams family film.
They also had the unenviable task of reintroducing the world to a family few of the 80s generation would know, unless like me they enjoyed them in syndication. I suppose that explains much about me now too eh? They sadly fell into the trap of so many of the people adapting TV series to film. There’s a belief you have to establish the characters and introduce them in a new way. I am not so sure on this theory and I am hard pressed to think of a tv to film transfer that doesn’t do this. It doesn’t always work and it slows the progress of the film. Sadly as much as I love the Addams, the story here is probably the weakest part. The con artist to get in the family and steal their fortune. It works as an introduction, but just is kinda flat and not nearly as memorable as its sequel (review tomorrow). While it does bring to life most of the characters, their own personalities in a stronger story could do the same.
The late great Raul Julia captures most of Astin’s performance mania but puts a slightly more refined and less comical edge to it. If the original was played straight, this one is played to the razors edge. I do love Angelica Huston’s Morticia, but she doesn’t quite capture the exquisiteness of Jones. She does her part, but something seems off. Like they tried too hard to touch on what Jones did. It was good just not great, but I don’t think I can blame Huston here. She gives it her all and when she and Julia are together I see the chemistry.
Gomez and Morticia were near perfect in this more deadpan take on the characters, without a laugh track, but the real standout for 14 year old me – Wednesday. This was Christina Ricci’s second film role and one of my earliest and longest lasting crushes of a fictional character. The aging of the character for the film (approx 11 based on Ricci’s age) made it work as a character as I said before. Ricci though sold it in every single scene. Deadpan delivery – check. Creepy Astin like eye movements – check. Even the few times she smiled – check. The personality and growth of the character from 6 to 11 were clear and I can see this being the girl she grew into (also the girl I wanted to be and lets face it kinda am). Pugsley took the backseat this time and was somewhat dopey and dimwitted, but still captured much of the original characters quirks. The two children have as much chemistry together as siblings as the parents do. The subtle looks with the brothers and sisters stereotypical antagonism worked. The 7′ (2.13m) tall Carel Struyken perfectly nailed Lurch. This may seem like an easy task but such minimalistic acting is not at all easy and falling into line against what Cassidy did was difficult. The weakest member is probably the strongest comic in the bunch and that is Christopher Lloyd as Fester. There’s something missing about his performance, even within the confines of the films style and adaptation from the original it doesn’t feel like a modern evolution of Jackie Coogan; where so many of the others do.
From an FX standpoint, for 1991 the movie actually does fairly well. The downside is the 90s need to insert bad music into movies to help them sell, with a clip from MC Hammer playing at one point. The infamous Thing loooked pretty good then, but doesn’t hold up nearly as well twenty three years later. What they do right is so many of the subtle background practical effects through the film. The things that give it the Addams character as much as the family itself. Yes, once again until Act 3 when the final few shots of the climax were painful even then. They even found time to insert the original theme – which is important.
Agree with me or not, The Addams Family is a modern classic. It successfully reinvented and reinvigorated the Addams and provided us several films after. Even though the story was somewhat weak, the characters were amazingly strong. If you want to know me – watch this movie and watch Wednesday.
I do recommend the film aside though as a solid two hours of entertainment that can be shared with the family or enjoyed privately. This one makes me smile.
I must now debate Addams viewing parties…..
Until tomorrow when we review the Addams Family Values.