Rixflix A to Z: The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams Family (1991)
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld // Paramount; 1:39; color
Crew Notables: Charles Addams (New Yorker comic panels - source material); Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson (screenplay); Marc Shaiman (music); Owen Roizman (director of photography); Ruth Myers (costumes - AAN)
Cast Notables: Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya, Christina Ricci, Judith Malina, Jimmy Workman, Elizabeth Wilson, Carol Struycken, Christopher Hart, Paul Benedict, Dana Ivey, John Franklin, Mercedes McNab.
TC4P Rating: 7/9

So, who would be Gomez Addams today? Since the untimely death in 1994 of Raul Julia, who made Gomez a far more physical if not even more romantic figure than when played initially on television by the great John Astin, the part of the Addams Family head has been filled by Tim Curry (in a straight-to-video third film for the series, Addams Family Reunion) and by Glenn Taranto on a short-lived revival of the original show in 1998. (I am going to refrain from comment on both Curry’s and Taranto’s performances, as I have not actually seen either one.) Curry seems a natural choice to have played the role at some point, though judging from the critical reception of that particular piece, he would not be offered the role again. So, barring the possibility that Julia has actually been in hiding for almost 15 years and not deceased, who would play the part should there be interest in another film? Or has the Addams “fad-dams” wore itself out for this and the next generation?

I ask merely because I was never ready for the family to go away after only two films. Julia, sadly, in the words of Neil Diamond, was “done too soon”. But Gomez is a character clearly more than perfectly suited to interpretation, having successfully gone through an original single-panel comic version with nearly zero in the way of background, who got a voice from Astin and became a TV sitcom dad (albeit one with a smartly sadistic streak), who become a somewhat stiffly animated Hanna-Barbera cartoon character (who even met up memorably with Batman and Robin), who went back to getting played by Astin in a Halloween movie, who then took a long dirt nap for a decade-and-a-half, finally morphing into the far slicker rapscallion endowed by the late Julia. And that was where I found myself in 1991, sitting in a theatre to watch a movie version of a beloved TV show that I just knew was going to turn out rotten.

And then it didn't. Not by a long shot. For every twenty or so bad TV-to-movie adaptations, there seems to be one that makes the effort worthwhile. Though I certainly love the television series, having grown up seeing it in syndication many time, the version of the Addamses as portrayed in the first two movies is certainly the best filmed version, going far beyond Julia and creating indelible impressions through most of its characters. The beloved Thing, the body-challenged hand, through some marvelously creative special effects and the expressive hands of magician Christopher Hart, is finally free of his box and allowed to roam the world as the most helpful helping hand a family could ever need. Wednesday, merely a cute and annoying child in the series, becomes the very model of the modern psychopathic child via the monotonic threats of Christina Ricci, all pumpkin-sized forehead, beady-eyed and ghostly of pallor, whose every statement, even the most whispered ones, crawl from her mouth as the sharpest and most frightening of things. This is a girl who can and will do damage... eventually... (Ricci should have gotten an Oscar nomination.) As a counter-balance to his constantly scheming sister, Jimmy Workman as Puggsley comes off as sweet, though he has surely inherited his Uncle Fester's indestructible capabilities.

There are a couple of characters that don't work as well as I could have wished. As Fester, I still prefer Jackie Coogan. Christopher Lloyd, perhaps constrained by a storyline where he plays someone merely impersonating Fester (for the bulk of the film), never gets to cut loose here as much as he should. He will get a better showcase in the second film, even though they still found a way to tie him down there as well. However, it is probably the last decent role that Lloyd got in a film, at least, in a major one, and he acquits himself admirably. The role that does not work for me, and it has nothing to do with the decent performance by Carol Struycken, is that of the Frankenstein's Monster-like family butler, Lurch. The relatively slender Struycken has none of the sheer bulk that role originator Ted Cassidy had, nor does he have Cassidy's, to put it mildly, "unique" look. Cassidy's heavy features and monstrous proportions perfectly played off Lurch's gentler soul (he was a master on the harpsichord, you know); as a contrast, the filmmakers only give Lurch a handful of sight gags that never really gel with the rest of the film.

But then these is Morticia. Ms. Huston, looks-wise, has never been my cup o' espresso, but all Gothed-up as Gomez' sexual tormentor, she is downright sexy. You believe every second why her husband would howl at the moon, mad out of his mind over lust for her. Their dance sequence midway through the film literally burns up the dance floor, and it is easy to see why. At their own party, as it is in real life, Gomez and Morticia outdo in romantic fervor every single surrounding couple, even the most lustful among us. The television series had to remain mostly chaste regarding Gomez and Morticia's love-life; some suggestiveness snuck through, but theirs was still a '60s sitcom sort of love. In the film versions, they are allowed a little more freedom to express their intimations, but not too far. Theirs is still a love that is left largely to the imagination, but that just makes it all the hotter. Cara mia!

RTJ

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