The Addams Family
The Addams Family was written by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson. It was produced by Scott Rudin and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia were Morticia and Gomez. Christopher Lloyd played Fester. Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman were Wednesday and Pugsley. Dan Hedaya was Tully Alford and Dana Ivey was Margaret Alford. Elizabeth Wilson played Abigail Craven. It was released in 1991, by Orion.
A group of carol singers stand outside a large, weirdish looking door. They are happy, bright and colourful, and singing that ‘Merry Christmas’ song that the Americans do so well, and the British never really got the hang of. No one comes to the door however. Far above them, looking down, and ready to pour a cauldron of liquid nastiness on them, are the dark and grizzly looking faces of the Addams Family.
Who are The Addams Family? Well we all remember the 60’s black and white TV series, inspired by Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons: hard to forget it, really, seeing as it was repeated ad infinitum – but it certainly wasn’t bad. There then came a crass cartoon, and an appalling TV remake. Arguably, it also spawned The Munsters, which followed the same format. Barry Sonnenfeld’s 'The Addams Family', however, is a piece of sheer brilliance, taking all that was genius from the original cartoons and the TV series, the gothic look, the bizarrely drawn characters and the brilliant one-liners, and linking it altogether with an absurd ‘plot’.
I say ‘plot’ because there really isn’t that much of it. Uncle Fester, Gomez’s beloved brother, has been missing for years. His scheming lawyer, Tully, knows someone who looks exactly like Fester – Gordon Craven, and gets him, and Abigail Craven – his mother – to turn up at the house. If Gordon can successfully convince Gomez that he is Fester, then the house and all the gold in it (there’s lots) will belong to him. Tully, of course, down on his luck financially, will get a cut. After much soul searching, Gomez believes that Gordon is Fester, and accepts him back into the family. Fester promptly throws them out, and starts to look for the money. Unfortunately, the way to the vault – which Gomez had shown to ‘Fester’ - is full of booby traps: try as they might the three – Tully, Gordon and Abigail – can’t get the money. To complicate things further, Gordon was beginning to rather like being an Addams. Gomez and Morticia eventually end up back at the house and try to reclaim it. Gordon realises where his allegiances lie, and, using a book that generates a storm when it is opened, manages to rescue all the good guys and capture all the bad guys. (Deus Ex Machina, or what?) Of course, when Abigail had told Gomez that ‘Fester’ had been found in a fishing net with amnesia, she wasn’t telling the whole truth. In fact, she had found ‘Gordon’ in a fishing net (although years earlier than she had said). He wasn’t her son at all. In fact, ‘Gordon’ really is Fester after all, and he really did have amnesia. (How much Deus Ex Machina do you want?) The film ends with all the Addams bunch running off to dig up the body parts of all their dead relatives: Morticia reveals to Gomez that she is expecting a baby… (and therefore there’s a sequel not too far away…)
It’s not the most gripping plot you’ve ever heard, is it? It divided the audiences too. There were those who found it thin, and rather holey. And there were those, like me, who realised that none of it was to be taken seriously (well – not quite…): it’s a comedy. It’s meant to make you laugh. And it certainly did that.
The cast, for a start, is stunning. Raul Julia is suave, sophisticated, dapper, and totally unhinged – a perfect Gomez. Anjelica Huston’s Morticia is mesmerising, sharp and equally unhinged. Her pruning of her black roses (she cuts all the heads off) brought winces from the audience. Christina Ricci is disturbingly good at suggesting just the right amount of malice in her portrayal of Wednesday. Christopher Lloyd (the mad professor in Back to the Future? Yes him. He’s unrecognisable) is Fester. No one will ever be able to do it that well again. He’s enthusiastic, animated, cunning – superb. They, and the supporting cast too, are flawless.
Then there’s Thing. Thing is a disembodied hand. In the TV series, it lived in a box. Now, with the wonders of computer animation, Thing can run about, leap on roller-skates and dash down the middle of a busy road. One of the best scenes in the film depicts Thing, who is of course voiceless, trying to signal to Gomez that Morticia’s been kidnapped. Wonderful. And Cousin Itt is there, too, for Fester’s coming home party. Cousin Itt is all hair, and he squeaks and burbles instead of talking. Everyone knows precisely what he is saying except the audience. Tully’s wife, Margaret, falls for him.
The effects are nicely done too, and completely in keeping with the style of the film. The dance sequence, with lots of knife throwing, between Gomez and Fester is great (although you can see the stunt double, at one point, rather clearly). There is an excellent piece with a toy train crash: the toy, for a moment, becomes a real train and we see the horror of one of the passengers as he gazes out at Gomez’s gigantic face (it is, apparently, Barry Sonnenfeld in the train). Even the lighting is beautifully thought out. Morticia always has her eyes lit in a very thin strip to make her look more creepy and intense. The lighting guy must have a nightmare trying to get that done in every shot.
So – great cast, great characters, great effects, great set, great lights. ‘But the film’s basically just a succession of one-liners,' the critics cried. Yes – and thank goodness it is. Not merely because trying to construct a serious plot would ruin the absurdity of the film, but also, and mainly, because it’s the one-liners that make the film. They do, really.
The film is full of jokes and gags, deadpan and hilarious. It was a riot in the cinema: everyone was laughing and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Okay, so it’s not a vastly intelligent work: it didn’t win any Oscars, and it’s not going to find its way onto a media studies course. No one’s going to sit down and analyse what it’s really about – what it has to say about modern existence and the human condition. But so what? If you want a great two hours, go and buy some popcorn and rent this film. Better still, buy it: I guarantee you will want to watch it again.
And when you have – go watch Addams Family Values, the sequel. It’s marvellous too.
Cast and crew lists in this write-up come from The Virgin Film Guide - it didn't like the film very much - the production team 'neglected to think about the plot'.<\small>.
Thanks to Servo5678, admiralh and gorgonzola for information and a little proofreading...