JOHN HUGHES and HAL ROACH
It surprised me to learn that actor, director and screenwriter Charles Parrott – who performed in Hal Roach comedies as Charley Chase – was forever inspired by a quirky, long forgotten star of two-reelers named Lloyd Hamilton. Their styles seemed nothing alike. But somehow, Chase channeled something he saw in Hamilton’s often crude slapstick performances, filtered it, and made it his own. If Chase had never paid such tribute to Hamilton, few would have made the connection between two such disparate types of comedy personas. Chase was not copying Hamilton (although Jackie Gleason did, later on television), but instead would look to be inspired to approach comedy situations, gags and story ideas the way Hamilton might perceive them, except Chase then would do so through his own unique prism for seeing comedy.
Director, screenwriter and producer John Hughes just died. He left us too early, at age 59. There are many great tributes coming forward from within the motion picture industry. For a rundown on his wildly successful career, see obituaries that have just run in VARIETY, THE NEW YORK TIMES, and THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.
If Hughes himself had not made it known, most movie fans would not now be aware how much he was influenced by the house style of Hal Roach comedies. (See the link below for one such citation of that connection.) FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) is a wonderful comedy, but it wasn’t until I met one of the stars, Mia Sara, that I discovered what a devoted fan of Hal Roach’s work John Hughes was. Then later, during lunch at The Bel Air Country Club, Roach and I watched as rotund Second City comedian John Candy, who starred in two films for Hughes, spotted Roach, came back off the first tee (carrying his driver), and greeted Roach to happily declare what a fan both he and Hughes were. And yet on the surface, Hughes’ films do not appear to be re-workings of Hal Roach comedies. Only Hughes himself knew to what extent any particular Our Gang comedy inspired him while making the blockbuster hit HOME ALONE (1990).
In knowing Hal Roach for the last quarter of his life, I saw plenty of instances where movie celebrities, film writers, and directors would phone him, or send him notes, or pay tribute in person, thanking him for creating so many delightful, timeless comedies that either made them laugh as kids, or influenced them to gravitate towards Hollywood as a career, or continued to serve as inspiration for some project they were engaged in that very week!
As he neared age one-hundred, and slowed down a bit, Hal Roach got back in the habit of seeing newer films again. After receiving his honorary Academy Award in 1984, Roach would drive over to the Academy Theatre to see films. It was there so many young filmmakers on both sides of the camera would approach him to say how much they loved his comedies, and lament how no one today could match his style. Or to express gratitude for giving any number of these former fans their first jobs in Hollywood.
At first I thought all the adulation could be discounted as either curiosity or professional courtesy, or perhaps that some of these enormous celebrities were human beings after all, or, at least briefly, kids at heart who could revert to being simple fans again and relate to industry icons the way everyone else did. But as it turned out, I concluded this wasn’t just a lot Hollywood posturing and glad-handing; many of these stars meant what they said to Mr. Roach, whom they invariably approached with respect and reverence. The evidence of his influence may or may not be immediately evident in their work. It did not have to be derivative, and therefore obvious to everyone (such as in Steven Spielberg’s THE GOONIES (1985) for instance), it could also be comedy simply inspired by the work of Hal Roach. So much of it has been.
What a good excuse therefore -- should any be necessary -- to compare and contrast some Hal Roach and John Hughes DVD selections, the next evening you and yours … are home alone.
-- Richard W. Bann --