it's no big deal

Check it out—Old Man Marley.

You ever heard of the South Bend Shovel Slayer?

That’s him. Back in ‘58 he murdered his whole family and half the people on the block... with a snow shovel. Been hiding out in this neighborhood ever since...

Not enough evidence to convict. They never found the bodies. Everyone around here knows he did it. Now, it will just be a matter of time before he does it again.

I’m trying to think how gullible 8-year-olds were in 1990. (Let’s ignore the fact that Kevin’s older cousin also buys Buzz’s story.

(An aside, as I let the movie play without writing anything: there is a wheelchair hanging in the basement near the furnace. Someone in the production missed an opportunity to use that thing in the third act craziness.)

Anyway, my thing today is simple—

(I hope it leads to something a little more complicated tomorrow, but who know? It is a busy week, the last week of the quarter, and I’ve got a presentation in two days, another presentation in six, a couple writeups to accompany those, and my classes have their finals next week so I’ll have to grade those. Still, I hope to get into something a little deeper tomorrow regarding fear of the unknown, particularly fear of the Other.)

—Kevin should not be afraid of Old Man Marley. There is one reason in particular for this: Kevin should be familiar with the guy. While the cousin who also hears Buzz’s story above may never have seen Old Man Marley before, Kevin would have. Kevin takes refuge in the same neighborhood church where Old Man Marley goes to see his daughter sing. This implies that not only do they live in this neighborhood (which seems obvious [later edit, because in the church conversation, Old Man Marley specifies that they live next door to each other]) but both perhaps attend this church, as does Old Man Marley’s granddaughter.

(Odd thought: why does the entire family have to fly home from Paris? This family clearly has some money. Why don’t they just stay in Paris while Kate goes home on her own, gets Kevin, then joins the rest of them in Paris? I mean, there’s no way 11 of them went to Paris without the intent to stay a while.)

(Another: Kevin’s pseudo-voiceover bit in front of the mirror seems very strange the second day in a row. I never noticed it before, but there is no reason he should be saying the things he is saying out loud. Sure, he has a tendency to say his thoughts out loud (like the “I thought the Murphys went to Florida” just a minute or two later) but this speech is a bit too convoluted to be spontaneous.)

Kevin has no problem getting around his neighborhood, and he knows the neighborhoods; see the Murphys reference in that parenthetical just now. The movie expects us to just believe that the McCallisters, and Marley and his son’s family all live in the same neighborhood but a) Kevin has never run into the old man before and b) the old man and his son don’t run into each other all the time. I’m not buying it. It’s just implausible.

I mean, Ebert calls a whole lot of the film implausible, but he doesn’t even mention this bit. Instead, he says, “A real kid would probably be more frightened than this movie character, and would probably cry. He might also try calling someone, or asking a neighbor for help.” I don’t know. The film does a pretty good job of establishing that Kevin wants to be alone. In fact, when he just said “Good night” to his family’s photo and kissed it before going to sleep, that felt a little contrived to me. Ebert, though, says, “in the contrived world of this movie, the old neighbor is an old coot who is rumored to be the Snow Shovel Murderer, and the phone doesn’t work.” The thing is... The first thing is, we have no evidence Old Man Marley is actually rumored to be anything; we’ve just got Buzz telling a story that scares his little bother and his cousin. Doesn’t mean it’s true. The second thing is, the phone not working is part of the whole triggering event for the entire plot—the power going out—so while, yeah, it’s contrived, it’s the basic setup for the entire movie. And, all movies are contrived. Ebert would rather have a realistic movie about an 8-year old boy left home alone than this. Does he want the kid to accidentally set the house on fire while operating his dad’s glue gun again? Does he want the police to find out what’s going on, call child protective services and take Kevin away from the McCallister clan? He writes, “What I didn’t enjoy was the subplot involving the burglars...” My nitpick: that is not a subplot. That is the plot. I mean, that is the whole point to the film, plotwise. Kid gets left alone and has to deal with burglars, hilarity ensues. Everything else—Kevin learning that he really does like and need his family, Old Man Marley is not scary but actually kind of nice with his own complicated life going on—that is just icing.

(An aside: why are there no people in this neighborhood? There are plenty of people on the ice when Kevin runs from the cop after stealing the toothbrush (which, to be fair, is a bit of a distance from the residential area where Kevin actually lives). And, I get that it is winter in Illinois, but there should be the occasional person on the street, and more people at the church than Kevin and Old Man Marley.)

(Another one: this movie begins on the night of December 22. The McCallisters leave for Paris the morning of the 23rd. Kevin is alone for that day and the next, and the movie ends on Christmas morning. The movie specifies that this is a Friday. Not to nitpick, but I cannot think of a good reason this has to be a Friday. And, Christmas day in 1990 (the year the movie came out) was a Tuesday. In fact, for Christmas to be a Friday, it would have had to be three years earlier in 1987 or two years later in 1992.)

(And another: most of the mess Kevin makes could be easily cleaned up. The police will probably wonder what happened to the wet bandits, with all of their injuries, and that will probably lead back to the McCallister house and the events we see. Additionally, Kevin put roofing tar all over the stairs going down to the basement. There is very little chance he would be able to clean that up. The final beat of the movie is to let us know he never cleaned up the mess in Buzz’s room, but that is not the only thing he will have to explain. I don’t remember a lot of Home Alone 2 but I’m wondering if they acknowledge that Kevin’s family know what happened while Kevin was home alone here.)

(One more: Kevin’s traps would probably work anyway, but they only work as well as they do because somehow, magically, he was able to predict that Harry and Marv would start by coming to the back door. Then, one (Harry) would go for the front door, fail at that and return to the kitchen. Meanwhile, the other (Marv) would head down to the basement, then fail at that and head for the open window. There are problems here. What was stopping, for example, Marv from trying those basement stairs a second time after the iron and the nail? The damage was already done, he’d already lost his shoes and socks, so why not just keep going? Similarly, doorknob is hot, so Harry has to retreat to the snow, but then, why not try the door again? Really, why did he try the knob at all? He’s a burglar. He should have a crowbar or something to get in and should not be leaving his fingerprints on the knob. He’s worried about Marv doing the wet bandits calling card, but really, he should be worried about all the prints they are both leaving all over the place.)

Ebert thinks this movie is contrived? Sure, Kevin’s traps are “the kind of traps that any 8-year-old could devise, if he had a budget of tens of thousands of dollars and the assistance of a crew of movie special effects people.” But, even if we accept this as true, so what? It’s a movie. Roger Ebert, of all people, should appreciate a movie for what it is.

As I always try to do.

When not tearing the thing apart and nitpicking all its problems, at least.


  1. "Still, I hope to get into something a little deeper tomorrow regarding fear of the unknown, particularly fear of the Other." Woo whoo! And you are out-Eberting Ebert now, which is quite a feat.

    My office mate (who has never even heard of Roger Ebert) tells me Home Alone is one of his favourite movies, so maybe I should try it.


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