Thursday, March 26, 2015

'Red Chief' Has Nothing on this Kid!

You know the genre: kid triumphs over seriously stupid criminals by using superior planning, plus all kinds of storage-cupboard, garage, and utility-room nasties. For those who think Home Alone was the first such story, I can highly recommend the short story "Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry.

The first time I watched Home Alone, I was aghast at the casual violence of the film. The poor saps who come under Macaulay Culkin's guns get burned and electrocuted, hit with bricks and hot irons and paint cans and tire-irons, shot with staples, tarred and feathered. You know, just good clean fun!

It was years later, when I sat down to watch all five movies in the series (our standard practice for the Christmas season), that the penny dropped. This is Red Chief, updated for the modern age!

So when I wound up watching a "family" movie, Baby's Day Out, I had a good referent for the action. Here again is a young child with decided opinions of how his life should go, walking all over the bad guys he encounters.

Wait—did I say walking? I meant crawling. Baby Bink is a silver-spoon toddler with a favorite book and a nanny (played by Cynthia Nixon) to read it to him every time he insists. (Don't miss the drawings behind the opening credits—they are the illustrations from his "boo-boo", Baby's Day Out, in order from the book. To say why they are important would be a spoiler, but having seen them once in order will help you enjoy the story.)

His mother (Lara Flynn Boyle) decides to hire the downtown photographers whose baby portraits of her friend's children have all been published in the paper. She doesn't realize that the real photographers and their equipment have been hijacked by three kidnappers, played with typical stupidity and lack of foresight by Joe Mantegna, Joe Pantoliano and Brian Haley.

It doesn't take long for Baby Bink to toddle away from the three bad men. Once through an open window, he climbs a fire-escape, crawls from one roof-top to another, and manages to get a lift with a package-deliveryman in the adjacent building. The kidnappers are just far enough behind to feel the brunt of it, starting with mastermind Eddie (Joe Mantagna) falling multiple stories into a dumpster.

They barely miss Baby crawling all over Chicago: into a department store, behind the bars of the gorilla cage at the zoo, through culvert pipes in the park, and up and down a building under construction. I may have begun watching it under protest, but about half-way through the movie, I realized I was really enjoying it.

If you liked any of the Home Alone movies, you'll really get a kick out of Baby's Day Out

Afterword: Actor/singer Eddie Bracken, who has a cameo as the Veteran 's Home resident Baby Bink comes to visit near the end of Baby's Day Out, also played toy-store owner E.F. Duncan in Home Alone 2

Bracken, who came from Broadway to film musicals in 1940, was renowned for playing portraying genial rubes in musical and non-musical roles. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for television, and one for radio.

To see Bracken at the height of his powers as an actor, check out The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.