Home Alone has been one of the most treasured Christmas holiday movies over the past 30 years, but one thing I’ve noticed about the movie in recent years changes things when you think about the movie.
When we first meet Joe Pesci’s character Harry, he’s standing in the main foyer of that huge house the McCallisters reside trying to get the attention of anyone, but everyone is oblivious to a uniformed police officer. He seems a little curt with people but when you consider how the rest of the police department acts, he’s part for the course. While it’s never explained to Home Alone 2, but the McCallisters live in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
In 2010, the population of Winnetka was only 12,000, which is relatively normal for a town about 30 miles outside one of the largest cities in America. That means, it probably wouldn’t have a big police department. A joke later in the movie is when Kate (Catherine O’Hara) is trying to call the police from Paris, she calls a police officer more concerned with wrapping a present. When she says she’s going to transfer the call to Sgt. Harry Balzac in family crisis, played by John Hughes regular Larry Hankin, he’s right next to her in the other office.
A law enforcement agency like this in 1990 would have maybe a dozen full-time police officers. If they were lucky, there would only be 20 police officers, some on a reserve officer basis. Since it is a suburb of Chicago, a lot of well-to-do and elite people probably endure the commute to the Windy City. They also have some of the most powerful friends in the community.
Why would a criminal like Harry risk dressing up impersonating an officer, and walking in people’s homes. Harry doesn’t ever say his name, but he lets everyone see his face. He even lets the pizza guy in. Surely, the pizza guy has delivered to the police station. It’s also the holiday season where a lot of parties and get-togethers happen. Harry wouldn’t risk someone saying something to the mayor or town council about “How glad I was that the police were out checking on us?”
This could lead to someone asking questions on why a police officer was going around to homes. Harry might run the risk of going to someone’s home who’s good friends with someone on the police department or they’re in the family. None of this would matter if Harry was already a police officer, even if he was only working as a reserve officer, which means he doesn’t work full-time, but mainly would handle working at community events or during natural disasters. This would be the perfect gig for a reserve officer to have to go around talking to home owners.
Since he is an officer, Harry can also patrol the houses in a car without people getting cautious. He tells his partner in crime, Marv (Daniel Stern) that he’s been observing the routine the automatic lights come on at each residence. Only someone who’s been sitting outside a neighborhood for many nights timing the lights would know this. And a street like this would know if someone was out up to no good. Let’s not forget, Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom) spends the nights walking up and down the sidewalks salting them.
It’s the perfect cover for Harry. And for Marv too. Harry and Marv drive around in a windowless panel van call Oh-Kay Plumbing and Heating. Marv and probably Harry are probably using this job as a way to get into people’s home to see what they got. Also, if someone sees them out burglarizing a home, they’d just presume that someone is getting their plumbing or heating done. It explains why Marv has a knack for covering the drains in the sinks and turning on the faucets.
After doing this at the Murphys across the street from the McCallisters, Harry criticizes Marv for doing it saying, “It’s sick.” Why would someone do that if they weren’t a plumber? Marv says it’s their calling card as they’re “The Wet Bandits.” But I think it’s the perfect “Fuck You!” to the people who call on them. Also, Marv doesn’t seem as intelligent to leave a calling card that would be something different than messing up the homeowners’ plumbing.
In my theory, Harry and Marv are pulling off all these capers while everyone’s out of town to get back at the upper elites. They’re not career criminals. This is something they’ve decided to do as a final kiss off. This is why they make a lot of noise in the Murphys, play with the toys and use gloves with open fingers.
It also opens up a plot hole I don’t think Hughes nor Chris Columbus considered. When Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) first sees Harry, he’s dressed as a police officer. He notices Harry’s gold tooth. Later when Kevin inadvertently steals the toothbrush from the store when he’s scared of Marley, he’s chased by another police officer, but gets away. But he’s remorseful saying, “I’m a criminal” as he walks home.
When he’s almost run over by Harry and Marv in the van, Harry chides Kevin the way an officer would telling him he’s go to “look out for traffic.” Harry smiles flashing his gold tooth and Kevin gets scared. Because he remembers Harry as a cop so when he runs away, he’s running away from the cops. Remember, Kevin’s only 8. He wouldn’t be as smart to such things.
Of course, we never know why Kevin associates the van with burglars, since he never sees the van when they first show up and only Harry and Marv’s shadows on the other side of the window curtains. He turns on the lights but goes and runs and hides.
My guess was this was a plot hole that they realized and through in a line of dialogue that Kevin was saying when Harry and Marv come back, he’ll be ready. But how would Kevin assume they are the burglars who should up again? He’s still confusing Harry with being a cop thinking that Harry is going to arrest him.
This leads me to conclude that Kevin doesn’t know that Harry and Marv are burglars until he overhears them talking about coming back on Christmas Eve after seeing Harry’s face in a reflection peering through the window. So, why doesn’t Kevin call the police? He still thinks he’s going to be arrested for the toothbrush. That’s why he sets a series of obstacles and traps for them.
When they get the best of Kevin and corner him in the Murphys, Marley comes to the rescue and knocks Harry and Marv out. I guess Marley told the police he observed Harry and Marv going into the house and was able to subdue them. It’s a lot to take from a silly kids movie with over the top slapstick violence.
But Hughes was known for writing very long screenplays that he had to cut down to the barebones. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off left a lot on the cutting floor, such as that Ferris had a younger brother and sister. The Charlie Sheen character was supposed to be more significant. And there was an explanation where Ferris came up with all that money. In Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the original cut was almost three hours long, nearly half its runtime with more background material about Del Griffith and his past. I’m sure there were some deleted scenes that didn’t fit with the plot and some scenes weren’t filmed. It happens.
I know there’s been so many theories about the McCallisters and their wealth, which I will use for another post. Supposedly, Kate is supposed to be a big fashion designer which explains all the mannequins and Peter (John Heard) is supposed to be a big-time lawyer, which is another reason someone wouldn’t risk impersonating a cop. But there’s so many other things to get into at a later date. I’ve just never heard many people talk about Harry or Marv this way.
What do you think? Please comment.