the influences on john hughes -- 11/5/21

Today's selection -- from You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried by Susannah Gora. The influences on the work of movie director John Hughes, the extraordinarily successful director of coming-of-age teen comedy films including Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Pretty in Pink (1986), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), along with blockbusters such as National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and Home Alone (1990):

"The chirpy, sun­-drenched Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello squealfests such as Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), showed that teen movies could be their very own genre, and a profitable one at that.

"The movies that most deeply affected John Hughes while he was growing up incorporated three key themes that would become his cinematic hallmarks as an adult: physical comedy, unabashed romance, and the triumph of the good-hearted underdog. From classic comedies such as the Cary Grant film The Awful Truth he learned that something small, and physical, can be funnier than the wittiest bon mot ('You love to see somebody pompous sit on a malted Milk Dud,' Hughes later said). Doctor Zhivago enchanted the fifteen-year­-old Hughes with its sweeping romanticism -- the kind Hughes would one day embrace in his teen films. Zhivago, Hughes would later say, 'was the greatest romance movie ever made. It was playing at the Highland Park Theatre, and I went every single night.'

"But one filmmaker seems to have affected young Hughes in the most profound way. The influence of Frank Capra, best remembered for his life-affirming optimism in such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life, would later be seen in all of Hughes's movies, in which innocents and underdogs are rewarded with exuberant, possibility-filled endings. 'A key moment in my life came when I saw a documentary on Frank Capra,' Hughes once said. 'They showed these moments from the end of Meet John Doe .... It just really moved me.' So deep was Capra's influence on Hughes that Spy magazine would later write, 'Hughes has out­-auteured the auteur: his films are more Capra-esque.'

"As a teen, John Hughes would have found in movies a much­ needed escape from a sometimes difficult home environment. 'His mom and dad criticized him a lot,' says Jackson Peterson. It seems that Hughes's parents, Marion and John Sr., weren't all too pleased with their son's passion for the arts. 'She would be critical of what John would want to do,' says Peterson of Marion, 'that he would never be successful because of all the artsy things that he was into .... His parents were pressuring him to get real.' Hughes would go on to explore the theme of parental pressure in all of his 1980s youth dramas, and even in the comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in which a subplot involving a domineering parent brings dark shading to the otherwise buoyant story. There wasn't much relief to be found in Hughes's relationships with his three younger sisters, either, with whom, according to Peterson, he had no connection. 'They were in their own world, and he was in his own world.'

"The teen films Hughes would later make would explore in pow­erful ways the painful realities of class distinction as seen through the eyes of teenagers, something John Hughes was all too familiar with as a boy. Part of Marion Hughes's harshness may have stemmed from a sadness (or at least a frustration) regarding her changed station in life. She had been born into a politically powerful and wealthy family in suburban Detroit and, upon reaching adulthood, was part of the Junior League. Interestingly, when Hughes would later de­scribe the character of Brenda Baker to Carlin Glynn, the actress who would portray her in Sixteen Candles, Glynn remembers him saying, 'She's a really good mom .... She's not a brittle Junior Lea­guer.' Says Jackson Peterson of Marion Hughes, 'She brought that whole aura of how much better they were than everyone, coming from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and that they had all this money.'

"But the Hughes family might have been more challenged eco­nomically than Marion would've wanted to let on to her Junior League friends. John Sr. had a rough go of it in Chicago -- he purchased a beauty school, but that soon went bankrupt. 'It was a big drop for the family,' says Peterson, 'and I think a portion of their nest egg was lost in that business.' Hughes Sr. became a traveling salesman, visiting clients throughout the tristate Chicagoland area (not unlike Del Griffith, the goofy yet tenderly written Hughes character who would be played by John Candy in 1987's Planes, Trains and Automo­biles). Hughes Sr. 'was always getting criticized by the mother,' says Peterson. 'I think it was a big step down for her to come from upper middle class in Grosse Pointe to middle class in Northbrook. And I think John was being affected by that.'"



Susannah Gora


You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation


There Rivers Press


Copyright 2010 by Susannah Tora


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