20 Things to Look for the Next Time You're Watching Home Alone

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Home Alone, the 1990 classic that instantly made Macaulay Culkin an A-list star, is one of those Christmas movies that naysayers will try to tell you isn’t a Christmas movie. It’s not primarily about Christmas, but the backdrop of the holidays is present everywhere you look—from the stockings little Kevin McCallister (Culkin) hangs for his transcontinental family and the poinsettias that seem to decorate every set to the warm-and-fuzzy lesson about bringing loved ones together. Nevertheless, there are many things you’ve probably missed in McCallister’s saga dealing with burglars. During your ritual viewing of Home Alone around this time, here are some goofs and interesting facts to watch out for.

1. HOME ALONE IS A JOHN HUGHES MOVIE THROUGH AND THROUGH, EVEN THOUGH IT ISN’T.

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The master behind 1980s teen classics including Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off wrote Home Alone, though he did not direct it as he did those other films. He also served as producer, and it feels like his baby. It’s set in Hughes’s home turf, the Chicago area, and reunites him with John Candy and Culkin, who both starred in Hughes’s 1989 Uncle Buck. The surprisingly dark, adult content (guns, self-defense, family abandonment) lightened with wholesome humor are Hughes trademarks.

2. IT SET UP DIRECTOR CHRIS COLUMBUS’S CAREER.

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Columbus had only directed two feature films before he took the reins on Home Alone, which would become a template for his major work in the future. He’s become known for family-friendly material with plenty of gags. He partnered again with composer John Williams on the first two Harry Potter movies, in which the music is as unbelievably catchy as it is here.

3. THE HOME IN HOME ALONE IS A STAR IN ITS OWN RIGHT.

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    A large part of the mass appeal of Home Alone was its image of a large family living in the suburbs of Middle America. They might seem ordinary in their traditional, red-brick, Georgian house, but their life would’ve been a fantasy for most Americans. The actual house shot for the film is in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Winnetka. In 2017, Bloomberg reported that the neighborhood is the 10th richest in all of the United States. The McCallisters' house sold for $1.585 million in 2012 and looks much the same as it did in 1990, preserving one of movie history’s most famous exteriors.

    4. KEVIN’S FAMILY IS SCARILY MEAN TO HIM.

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      It’s not hard to fathom why Home Alone was scarring to some young kids (it was to this writer growing up, anyway). In the beginning, we see why Kevin might be happier without his family around. But they aren’t just harsh; their bullying of an eight-year-old verges on sadistic. His sister Linnie calls him incompetent (in French!), his brother Buzz calls him a “phlegm-wad” and suggests that he eat regurgitated cheese pizza, and his uncle calls him a “little jerk” for a minor accidental spill. When they realize in France that they’ve left little Kevin to fend for himself, none of the family members seems particularly worried except his mom. It’s enough to wonder if the McCallisters aren’t the true villains of Home Alone.

      5. THE MCCALLISTERS ARE A LITTLE TOO FAST.

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        When the McCallisters are late getting out of the house for their flight to France, Uncle Frank says they have only 45 minutes until the plane departs. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Winnetka to the closest major airport, O’Hare (where scenes were shot), according to Google Maps. Even if they shaved off 10 minutes in their rush, that gives them 25 minutes from arriving at the airport until departure. Airlines typically close gates 15 minutes before departure, so the McCallisters checked in, got through security, and raced to the gate in 10 minutes (or even faster). That’s either some kind of record or sloppy writing.

        6. DON’T EVER TRUST HEATHER IN MATH CLASS. 

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        Hughes came up with a fun plot device to leave Kevin in the dust: While Heather is counting up the number of kids before they leave for the airport, the neighboring Murphy kid is busy in one of the vans, leading her to mistakenly include Kevin. But Kristin Minter, the actress who played Heather, may have gotten thrown off in real life when Buzz interrupts her counting, because if you watch closely, she actually counts herself twice and forgets Linnie in the tally.

        7. HOME ALONE IS AN ADVERTISER’S DREAM.

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        Hollywood was not shy about product placement in its movies during the 1990s, but even so, the sheer number of brands that appear in Home Alone is mind-boggling. We see (and hear) Pepsi multiple times, along with American Airlines, Playboy, Junior Mints, Crunch Tators (an ‘80s Frito Lays snack), Tide, Tropicana, Tic Tacs, Kraft—and those are just the most obvious examples.

        8. THE BB GUN IS NOT TRUE-TO-LIFE.

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          Kevin makes use of Buzz’s Daisy BB gun throughout the movie, whether it’s for target practice on toys or to ward off Joe Pesci. But the model shown, while used as a pump-action gun, is actually lever-action.

          9. NO, THAT ISN’T A REAL ‘30S GANGSTER MOVIE.

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            The Home Alone filmmakers created a fake gangster movie for Kevin to watch and get inspiration from, called Angels with Filthy Souls. It’s certainly a reference to the actual 1938 picture Angels with Dirty Faces. The footage for the movie-within-a-movie lasts one minute and 20 seconds, and you can watch every filthy second of it here. It feels surprisingly authentic for a parody clip, and clearly had the desired effect: a sequel even appears in Home Alone 2.

            10. THE MOVIE (MOSTLY) GETS CHICAGO RIGHT.

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              While the ride to the airport may have been way too quick, those from the Chicagoland area will notice that the filmmakers put great care into making its setting in the area feel real, including doing exterior shots on location. That’s not surprising given Hughes’s love affair with Chicago in his movies. The Metra commuter train (not to be confused with the L) that reaches the suburbs of the city even gets a shoutout with a passing train.

              11. BUT IT DEFINITELY DOESN’T GET FRANCE RIGHT.

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                When most of the McCallister clan makes it to Paris, they’re actually being shown in another part of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Based on when they left, it should be nighttime in France, but is instead daylight. Catherine O’Hara’s Kate leaps to the closest payphone, somewhat rudely kicking off a Frenchwoman in order to find out about her son. The problem is she’s using a BT payphone that wouldn’t have existed in Paris, and while she’s asked to insert coins, French payphones at the time required telephone cards.

                12. HOME ALONE IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF THE POLICE.

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                  When Kate gets through to local police about her son being home alone, she gets them to agree to send someone to check up on him. They do, but only with the barest amount of effort. An officer shows up at the front door and knocks. Kevin, being scared, doesn’t answer and hides in the bedroom. Despite the fact that the house lights are on and Kevin’s mom told police that her son is there, the officer is apparently satisfied with his detective work and radios back to the department about Kate, “Tell her to count her kids again."

                  13. LITTLE NERO’S PIZZA EXISTED, BUT ONLY FOR A DAY.

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                    Who wouldn’t want to grab a slice of Little Nero’s Pizza like Kevin, with its affable delivery boy, charmingly amateur logo, and unforgettable motto (“No Fiddlin’ Around!”)? Sadly, the restaurant is fictional, an apparent nod to Little Caesars. But love for Home Alone and its cult pizza joint is so strong that distributor 20th Century Fox and UberEATS partnered in 2015 to serve customers in select cities pizzas (which actually came from local establishments) in Little Nero’s boxes.

                    14. THE GROCERY STORE NEEDS TO FIX ITS REGISTER.

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                      Kevin goes under the radar of many adults, who don’t seem sufficiently suspicious of an eight-year-old fending for himself outside. He makes a shopping trip to a grocery store and does his best adult impression, chatting with the sales clerk and even bringing along a coupon for an item. But when the sales clerk rings up his groceries, her register does not identify any products or transactions, and her scanner doesn’t light up or make any sound.

                      15. JOHN CANDY WAS REALLY, REALLY GOOD AT HIS JOB.

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                        Late comedy legend Candy makes quite an impression with just a little screen time toward the end of Home Alone, as a polka musician helping Kate get back to her son. It’s even more stunning when you discover that he did all his scenes in one day of shooting, though to be fair it was a 23-hour day. He also completely improvised perhaps the funniest bit in the entire film, when he attempts to comfort Kate by telling her that he once left his son in a funeral home.

                        16. KEVIN ACTUALLY ISN’T VERY GOOD AT PROTECTING HIS HOME.

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                          One of the more significant errors in the movie involves Kevin running home from church in the evening to prepare for the robbers he knows are planning to swing by at 9 p.m. For someone who’s awfully meticulous about his DIY security methods, Kevin makes a serious lapse: We watch him open the front door without a key, meaning he left it unlocked the entire time he was gone, despite literally knowing that thieves were on their way.

                          17. THE PHONE LINES DON’T WORK, UNTIL THEY DO.

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                            Another plot convenience to keep Kevin out of touch with his family is that the phone lines in the McCallisters’ neighborhood, as we learn early on, are down. Yet somehow Kate reaches the police presumably in the same neighborhood, Kevin orders a pizza to his home, and he calls the police toward the end of the film to alert them about the robbers. Through the entire runtime, however, the rest of the family is incapable of reaching Kevin.

                            18. MARV’S FACEPRINT ISN’T SO CONVINCING.

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                            Makeup in a 1990 family comedy could only do so much. Daniel Stern’s bumbling sidekick to Harry, Marv, takes an iron in the face while intruding on the McCallister home. But in the closeup that immediately follows, it’s obvious that the faceprint is a sticker.

                            19. THE MOVIE ALSO DOESN’T GET HARRY’S DOOR BURN RIGHT.

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                            Joe Pesci does an excellent job acting angry at being subverted by a rosy-cheeked eight-year-old. At one point, his Harry attempts to simply open the front door, but Kevin has put a hot iron on the other side of the doorknob. Harry gets a bad burn in the shape of the “M” on the doorknob, but given the angle at which he put his hand on the knob, the burn should look different.

                            20. HARRY LOSES MORE THAN A TOOTH.

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                            In the process of battling Kevin’s tricks, Harry loses a gold tooth that makes an appearance later. But the wedding ring we saw him wearing in earlier scenes also disappears, following the scene in which Marv attacks the spider on him, without any explanation. If Pesci ever signs up for another Home Alone sequel, maybe that mystery can finally be solved.

                            Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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                            As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

                            12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

                            Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
                            Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
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                            In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

                            With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

                            1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

                            Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

                            By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

                            2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

                            By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

                            3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

                            While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

                            4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

                            Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

                            With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

                            5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

                            Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

                            6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

                            Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

                            To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

                            “If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

                            7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

                            By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

                            8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

                            One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

                            9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

                            Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

                            10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

                            A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

                            At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

                            The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

                            11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

                            By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

                            12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

                            White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

                            Additional Sources:
                            White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
                            White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
                            Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
                            Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)