Home Alone and It’s Link To Gags of the Past: by Taylor Holliday

Mischief gags have been in films since their beginning and they all tend to follow roughly the same storyline. Tom Gunning talks about this in his essay, “Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths: Mischief Gags and the Origins of American Film Comedy” from the book Classical Hollywood Comedy. He believes that they tend to serve as attractions that present scenes of harmless aggression that begin with a preparatory action and end in comic result. And he believes that these gags are showing a narrative structure, rather than taking away from the narrative, as gags normally do.

One example of this mischief gag can be found in Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990). When the Wet Bandits attempt and break into the McCallister’s home once Kevin has rigged it with booby traps, we see many “mischief gags” enfold. One of them is that the steps that lead to the front door are covered in ice and Harry falls down them multiple times. Now this gag is one that mildly echoes Charlie Chaplin’s attempts at walking up his stairs in One A.M. (Charlie Chaplin, 1916). This is classic gag that, as well as making the Wet Bandits look like fools, also furthers along the narrative by letting us know that this is just the beginning of of the booby traps that Kevin has set.

After Harry manages to make it up the steps he then decides to try the door handle, after carefully peaking inside to ensure that there is nothing waiting for him on the other side. He then tries to turn the door handle, but finds that it is burning hot, causing him to reel backwards and fall down the steps again. I believe that this scene allows for the laughs of a gag, but also rather than completely interrupting the story line, it allows for the narrative to progress.

2 comments

  1. Can the film as a whole be seen as a further extension/larger version of the mischief gag? Gunning references the possibility of a ‘concluding action’, which could be seen as the robbers getting caught and reprimanded for the actions at the end of the film.

  2. Gunning talks about how in many early gag films there is an essential piece of apparatus or a device that the rascal uses to carry out their prank. While there have been many examples in film of the mischief gag and the rascal character, I think Home Alone is one of the best examples of the potential of the joke apparatus.

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