With Joe Pesci back in the spotlight thanks to The Irishman, and Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been remembering one of his finest performances – as hapless burglar Harry Lyme in Home Alone. It’s easy to forget how against-type this role was for Pesci, best known for playing menacing, foul-mouthed criminals in gangster films like Casino:
(Don’t miss the TV version, with its fancy hecking swear-avoidance.)
When Pesci was sent the script for Home Alone, he ‘saw he could do something with it’, according to executive producer Mark Levinson. But the filmmakers knew that Harry Lyme would be a challenge for Pesci. In a behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD, director of photography Julio Macat says:
It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.
Mention swearing in films and the focus tends to fall on quantity: which film is the sweariest, how many fucks are there, what’s that per minute, and so on. But this is ultimately trivial; I find the quality of curses more interesting. One cult classic that’s less sweary than you’d expect but puts its strong language to memorable effect is The Thing.
John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’ was first adapted for film in 1951 as The Thing From Another World, a quirky B-movie with a flavour of Cold War distrust. Though this adaptation offers wit and melodrama, it feels inescapably quaint to modern audiences, and suffers from that era’s technical constraints. The more obviously a monster is just a person in a suit, the harder it is to suspend disbelief – that goes for the actors too.
By the 1980s this had all changed. John Carpenter, a fan of Campbell’s story (The Thing From Another World is seen playing on a television in Halloween) was going through a purple patch when he was hired to direct a lean new script of The Thing written by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt. Spoilers follow below.