The holiday season is here and like any parent who grew up in the 90s, I am letting my kids know that watching movies from my childhood is a fantastic idea. In their world, there is no new Jumanji, Robin Williams is still alive, and Macauley Culkin is like 12. Indeed, their young world is an innocent place. Filled with movies that make me happy.
And with this gentle coercion to watch movies from my childhood instead of their own, my children, this Christmas season, have developed a fondness for Home Alone and Home Alone 2. Why shouldn’t they? These movies are hilarious. I’m stoked. But on viewing number… I think we’re at five… I began to realize something that never occurred to me when I watched the films as a kid.
We have two different Marvs in these films.
PopLurker spoiler—I totally have the warm and fuzzies for both.
Let us begin with the first Home Alone—the viewer meets Harry (played by Joe Pesci) in the opening scene. He is pretending to be a police officer, stalking around the McCallister home while the bustling family pays him no mind. Finally, later in the film, we meet his cohort Marv (played by Daniel Stern). From the start of Marv’s appearance in the film, he is asking Harry if he’s sure that the McCallister home is empty. He comes across almost as gentle faced, cautious, thoughtful, and almost… dare I say… stoic at first. Home Alone features a Marv that if the audience didn’t know better (and we don’t until the outlandish, hilarious, slapstick comedy at the end) would come across as a smart, dangerous, slow moving threat.
Original Marv has a sort of contemplative menacing bad boy air about him that in my opinion comes through in spite of the movie creators attempt to present him as a gangly dim-witted goofball. Sure, once Marv and Harry are inside Kevin’s neighbors’ house and we see what they are actually stealing, we can see it’s all junk. Harry and Marv are more inconvenient rascals than an actual threat to homes. They fuck up your door frame and locks, break your knickknacks and tchotchkes, and leave your sink running with their Wet Bandits calling card. Considering that via the source material we don’t see them stealing anything of use or value, I think it’s fair to say that Marv and Harry’s appearance in your home will cost more in repairs than the value of the stuff they actually take off with.
In the first Home Alone movie, the comedy in Marv is more in his reactions and body language to the events around him as opposed to what he says or which expression is splayed across his face. Some of the top Marv gags in Home Alone include slipping on the greased up exterior basement stairs, the iron to the face, the BB pellets to the forehead, stepping on glass Christmas ornaments, slipping on Hot Wheels, the paint can to the face, the tarantula to the face, beating Harry with a crowbar to kill said tarantula, and getting stuck on the zip line rope with Harry. (There are probably more that I’m forgetting here, but this illustrates my point and inability to relinquish anything from the past well enough).
In typical sequel form, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York takes the cartoonish antics and multiplies them to a billion, and that includes the depiction of our villains, who have rebranded as the Sticky Bandits. Wet and Sticky sounds like a good time for most adults, so all the parents watching get to have a chuckle at the immature joke and silent groan bemoaning the loss of their once-active sex lives.
Before we can fully appreciate the wildly animated creational splendor that is Marv in Home Alone 2, let’s take a quick peek at Harry for a moment. In my opinion (and remember Lurkers, this website is stuffed with opinions), Harry is consistent between both films. While Joe Pesci has a reputation for serious roles, his vast array of facial expressions, severe east coast accent (is that Long Island?) and big reactions lend itself wonderfully to both Home Alone films. But with Harry, once you know him in the first film, you know what to expect from him in the second film. It’s predictable, it’s extremely funny, and his role as “The Brains” of the two baddies moves the plot along. You know he was legitimately scary when he was following Kevin slowly in the van in the first film, and you loved that exciting moment in the second film when the Bandits stalk over Kevin and Harry says “Hiya Pal!”
Now, back to Marv—the thoughtful, contemplative gazes from the first movie are gone by the time Home Alone 2 kicks off. Even just looking at the posters and promo material for the two films, you can see the wild goofiness on Marv’s face all the time. Daniel Stern brought his acting chops five billion percent just in the way his eyes and mouth sit as Marv in the second film. If audiences loved Marv’s scream in the first movie when the tarantula was stuck onto his face, then we will roar with laughter for the electrocution scene, staple gun, rope on fire, the bricks, the cement bag, and of course—the scream when the pigeons are pecking the corn and seeds off a—what else, very Sticky Bandit. The man can shriek, there’s no doubt there.
And what Jewish kid can forget that moment Marv pried open the chest full of money at Duncan’s Toy Chest and said “Happy Hanukkah Marv!” Come on—it was funny! We had representation—no one gets to have a Happy Chanukah in a Christmas movie, let alone one of our beloved baddies—it was FUN!
I know what you’re cynically thinking as you read this entire article just to yell at me that it was horrible once you’ve picked apart every word and let me know that there are no “two Marvs”. You’ll let me know that “Well actually, it’s quite common for any sequel to up the ante on the crazy. I mean, look at Rambo and every Nightmare on Elm Street sequel after the gay one. It unravels and gets silly.”
And I hear you, Lurker—really, I do. And if the silly was only intensified during the “Kevin sets the Booby-traps in the Houses” scenes, sure—I’d say that’s the natural evolution. But it’s more than that.
It’s that we went from this guy…
To this guy.
And it’s having an old friend come back after a lobotomy peppered with cyanide pills. It’s a swaggering stalking sex beast return as Bugs Bunny. It’s calm, contemplative, focused eyes come back crazed with a lopsided grin. And if we’re talking two Marvs here and each version can coexist together within the same universe.
Then like…I’d like to make a special request of having them coexist with me, you know, alone. Like, together. At the…you know…same time. Uh huh huh huh…
Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.
And a Happy New Year.
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