Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Harry and the Hendersons (1987) * * ¾

George Henderson (John Lithgow) takes his average American family on a hunting trip in the Pacific Northwest. On their way home to Seattle in a station wagon with wife Nancy (Melinda Dillon), bratty daughter Sarah (Margaret Langrick) and hyperactive son Ernie (Joshua Rudroy), they accidently run over a strange animal, and when they get out to see what it is, they find the seemingly dead body of a hairy Bigfoot-type monster (Kevin Peter Hall).

George Henderson: Nancy, I'm not a doctor, but it's got no pulse, it's not breathing and it's cold as a popsicle. Believe me, honey, whatever he is, he's definitely dead!

Excited by his rare find, George straps the monster to the roof of the car and takes it back to the Seattle suburbs. Believing that the creature is a grizzly bear, he plans to stuff the beast and put it on display in their living room. But the beast turns out to be alive and within minutes the revived creature goes wild, rampaging throughout the house. It transforms their dream home into a pile of drywall and splinters. Eventually, the family realizes that the creature is the legendary Bigfoot, and is actually very gentle. Given the name Harry, the creature's curiosity leads it to escape, running through the city as sightings of it strike fear into the populace, and greed into the heart of French Canadian hunter Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), who has followed its trail for 25 years.

Jacques LaFleur: (to Nancy, about Harry) It could be out there suffering. And I know you'd want to help me find it so I could ki-... care for it.
(LaFleur is released from the watch house)
Jacques LaFleur: Where the hell have you been?
Jerome: There was nothing I could do!
Jacques LaFleur: Oh, bullshit!
Jerome: They weren't letting anybody out until they processed those guns, and there were a lot of guns! You need a bath.
Jacques LaFleur: And what, blow my cover?
(bangs on counter)
Jacques LaFleur: Come on, come on! Give me my piece!
Police Clerk: Hey, when I'm ready, pal.
Jacques LaFleur: When he's ready...! Jerome, do something, hey!

The Hendersons nurse Harry back to health and attempt to keep his existence a secret. Trying to hide him from the Seattle authorities and the hunter who wants its hide, the Hendersons come to realize that the best thing for Harry is to return him to his home in the wilderness.

George Henderson: He walked into our kitchen and was eating out of our refrigerator. I thought we was gonna eat me but he ate our daughter's corsage and then ate our goldfish!
Sergeant Mancini: And where is he now, Mr. Henderson?
George Henderson: In the bathroom.
Sergeant Mancini: Oh, of course, how stupid of me.
George Henderson: (on the phone) No, no, no Bigfoot here, Sergeant. I was just joking. It's just a prank, uh, I'm not even George Henderson. You must have reached the wrong number. (hangs up)

Hiding their furry friend as they race to get him back to his natural environment isn't so easy. They soon discover that the creature has a heart of gold as well as a brain. Far from being the ferocious monster they fear Harry to be, he's a friendly giant. They grow quite fond of the family's new addition, and it is adopted as a pet. This makes things all the worse when local hunters start setting their sights on the Henderson's beloved Bigfoot Harry.

This is a cute movie about a family man who befriends a Sasquatch (Bigfoot) and brings the friendly creature into his Seattle home. Mayhem and comedy ensue, and most of the film's jokes are about Harry's smell and size. He desperately needs a bath and a deodorant, and he's so big and heavy that he breaks chairs, floors and ceilings. Everything hinges on the relationship between George and Harry, and it is quite effective and touching. Dr. Wallace Wrightwood (Don Ameche) is a hoot as an old guy whose life has been ruined by his dedication towards the study of the Sasquatch. He has dreamed of meeting a Bigfoot all his life and finally gets his chance.

Dr. Wrightwood: And I know it's closing time, so if you wanna talk shop, then shop!
Nancy Henderson: George, if I could have a word with you before The Carson Show calls?
Sarah Henderson: Where's the roast?
George Henderson: I'll go get it.
Nancy Henderson: The roast is resting in a shallow unmarked grave in the backyard.
George Henderson: Oh. Well, there's plenty of other stuff.
Dr. Wrightwood: Are you vegetarians?
George Henderson: Sometimes. It depends on the guest.

Harry is played by a 7-foot-2-inch actor Kevin Peter Hall in what looks like a slightly altered Chewbacca suit. However, it's not his looks or smell that offend--it's his unctuous manner, which permeates the film itself. Harry is so sentimental he'd weep over a television commercial. Tears of gratitude well up in his eyes when someone doesn't swat him. Unlike E. T., who regards the world with a sophisticated yet kindly doubt, Harry, who's meant to be lovable, is simply dumb. His adoration of the boorish Hendersons and their suburban lifestyle is not satiric. In the way of sit-coms, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS sanctifies the values of a stereotypical American family that's never looked quite as empty-headed as in this film. But it has a a sharp, comic edge and includes some vulgar language. Interestingly, the main character who curses in the film is the boy. Except for hearing the word "sh*t" a few times, the rest of the movie is clean enough for the whole family to enjoy. However, it is rated PG. There are several messages : some humans are more beastly than animals, forgiveness is a powerful healer, and protect the wilderness, for it contains many wonderful things that are not always apparent to us.

Originally conceived as a TV series by comedian Brad Garrett, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS won an Academy Award for Makeup by Rick Baker. Ultimately it did make it to the small screen as a weekly syndicated sitcom in 1990, with Kevin Peter Hall repeating the title role during the series' first 24 episodes. HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS fits perfectly in the niche of Spielberg-produced family fantasy comedies that were made throughout the mid 1980s. In the spirit of "E.T.", but not quite as heavy, movies like THE GOONIES, INNERSPACE, and HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS successfully delivered escapism and fun to viewers of all ages without asking too much in return. That's exactly what one can expect from HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS.

John Lithgow is perfectly cast as the long-suffering patriarch. He brings a depth to his character that certainly wasn't required, but makes the bond between his George and Kevin Peter Hall's monstrous Harry endearing and believable. Likewise, Don Ameche and David Suchet deliver top-notch performances as the conflicting sides of the scientific community. And, as always, Melinda Dillon fills her motherly role with skill and ease. Altogether, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS brings together a talented cast and a charming script, resulting in an unabashedly cute film. It's a funny and moving classic for all the family, and most people will love it no matter what their age. The film was released as BIGFOOT AND THE HENDERSONS in the UK, though the TV series retained the American title.

The cast also includes: Lainie Kazan (Irene Moffat), M. Emmet Walsh (George Henderson Sr.), Bill Ontiverous (Sgt. Mancini), David Richardt (Dirty Harry Officer), Jacqueline Moscou (DMV Clerk), Laura Kenny ("Mouse" Woman), Richard Arnold ("Mouse" Spouse), Sean Morgan (Jerry Seville), Nick Flynn (Stuart), David MacIntyre (Billers), Peggy Platt (Librarian), Orene Anderson (Woman in Kitchen), William Dear (Sighting Man), Laurie O'Brien (Screaming Woman), Michael J. Loggins (Big Gun Man), James King (Bicycle Man), (Nathaniel Ellis (Sgt. Bader), Juleen Murray (Press Woman #1), (Mark Mitchell), (Press Man #1), Connie Craig (Press Woman #2), Dana Middleton (News Anchor #1), Richard Foley (News Anchor #2), Larry Wansley (News Anchor #3), Steve Sheppard-Brodie (News Anchor #4), Mickey Gilbert (Police Officer), Tom Hammond (Police Officer), Stuart Schwarz (SWAT Officer), Justin Mastro (Vigilante), Michael Goodell (Pool Man), Chuck McCollum (Guard), Vern Taylor (Jerome), Stan Sturing (Police Clerk), Robert Isaac Lee (Kim Lee), Debbie Lee Carrington (Little Bigfoot), John Bloom (Feet), Fred Newman (Vocal Effects), William Frankfather (Schwarz), Robert Hanley (Eddy Rose), and Vicki Petite (Baby Bigfoot). Bruce Broughton composed the music throughout the entire film, and Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes perform "Love Lives On" during the end credits. William Dear, Bill Martin, and Ezra D. Rappaport wrote the screenplay. William Dear directed.

Dr. Wrightwood: I'm gonna say this once. 'Gonna say it simple. And I hope to God for your sakes you all listen. There are no Abominable Snowmen. There are so Sasquatches. There are no Big Feet!
(the family begins to giggle. Unknown to Wrightwood, Harry is standing right behind him)
Dr. Wrightwood: Am I missing something? So what you're saying is you would be willing, excuse me, Jack would be willing to take in this creature and care for it and love it like a pet?
George Henderson: No, like a member of the family.

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