Volunteering to drive his girl friend's son home for Thanksgiving to Chicago from his boarding school in Georgia, little does Dutch expect the picaresque adventures in store for him. When a blunt, down-to-earth construction worker takes to the road with an insufferable twelve-year-old snob (desperately insecure under the surface) who doesn't approve of him in the least, quite a bit must happen before they can reach their destination as friends-- or, for that matter, get home at all.
Please welcome Dr. Steve Larson to High-Def Digest!
Please welcome Dr. Steve Larson to High-Def Digest!
As his directing career came to a close in the early nineties, John Hughes remained a prolific screenwriter who continued to produce films through his production company, Hughes Entertainment. Before Warner Bros. released his final directed film, 'Curly Sue,' in late 1991, Hughes wrote and produced the ill-received comedy, 'Career Opportunities,' starring Frank Whaley and Jennifer Connelly. In between those features came a small film titled 'Dutch.' After he wrote the script, Hughes tapped Australian filmmaker Peter Faiman ('Crocodile Dundee') to direct. Ed O'Neill was an excellent choice to play the titular working-class hero, Dutch Dooley. The actor was in the midst of playing Al Bundy in the long-running sitcom 'Married…with Children.' O'Neill's co-star was preteen actor Ethan Randall, who went on to portray Rusty Griswold in 'Vegas Vacation' (1997). Hughes and/or his casting directors probably spotted Randall (now Ethan Embry) in a bit part in Albert Brooks's dramedy, 'Defending Your Life' from the same year.
As 'Dutch' begins, Natalie Standish (JoBeth Williams) and her boyfriend Dutch Dooley (Ed O'Neill) are attending a socialite party in a posh mansion hosted presumably by Reed Standish (Christopher McDonald), Natalie's ex-husband. As he did in several of his works, Hughes relished poking fun at the rich. In this film, he magnifies the gulf between the haute bourgeoisie and the lower-middle class. The opening scene typifies this portrayal as Dutch is relegated outside and hounded by a small but vexatious dog that tangles at his feet. Dutch is not a member of the money club and must make his reentrance through a couple of French doors leading into an office from out back. Natalie fraternizes with some snobby older ladies while Dutch annoys some well-to-do gentlemen. Hughes's biting dialogue and the glitzy wardrobes of the party guests are part of the film's social commentary on class and status. Dutch is introduced to Reed, who offers Natalie an ultimatum. Dutch, in turn, makes his own threat to Natalie's former spouse known. Reed's narcissism is suggested by the aura he carries himself with as well as his womanizing ways (implied by a flirtatious maneuver he makes on an attractive guest). Natalie and Reed's conversation centers on their plans for Thanksgiving and who will spend time with their son, Doyle (Ethan Embry). Reed claims that he will be in London on a business trip over the holiday and thus be unable to spend it with Doyle. After Doyle refuses his mother's offer to take a plane ticket from Georgia to Chicago, Dutch offers to drive and pick up the rebellious adolescent at a private boarding school down South.
Doyle is very much a product of his father's hubris and self-centeredness. He has few, if any, friends at his school and makes himself isolated from them. He is first seen meticulously cleaning his computer keyboard and then reprimanding Teddy (Will Estes), a classmate of his, for not knocking before entering the room. When Dutch arrives and Doyle mistakes him for his own dad, all hell breaks loose. Deeming Dutch an intruder, Doyle throws a book at his mom's boyfriend, whacks him with a golf club, dishes karate moves on him, and shoots him with a pellet gun. Things eventually settle down but the intractable Doyle refuses to go calmly so Dutch ties him up to a hockey stick and drags him to his car. The two hit the road and embark on a series of comic misadventures.
When 'Dutch' entered US theaters in the summer of '91, it mostly took a critical mauling. Reviewers belittled it as an inferior retread of Hughes's 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' (1987) and thought that Hughes went to the well once too often. It's true that both films are comedic road pictures with the narrative goal of making it home to Chicago by Thanksgiving in one piece. But Dutch and Doyle are just as much the 'odd couple' if not more so than Del Griffith (John Candy) and Neal Page (Steve Martin) are in PTA. This is not to argue that 'Dutch' is the same caliber of PTA or among the finest of Hughes's works. Hughes goes too over-the-top with slapstick in at least a couple of scenes. But 'Dutch' is a very good Hughesian comedy that may even deserve to be called a minor classic.
Dutch and Doyle play off each other wonderfully. Doyle is entirely unlikeable up until two-thirds of the film but Embry makes him into a fascinating case of adolescent angst gone wrong. While Doyle is depicted as a spoiled brat, he is also intellectually gifted and mature for his age. He is also conscious of his own faults to the point that he understands why he is the way he is (his facial expressions suggest an inner sorrow for his parents' breakup). Doyle's frustrations and insecurities help explain why he took up karate. (The audience learns that he is a high brown belt.) On the other hand, while he is an honest working man, Dutch is a wholly immature adult who never really grew up. (Doyle chides him as a 'big demented child.') Although the film invokes many of Hughes's familiar comedic tropes for its intended laughs, it also is a bit like Brian Gilbert's 'Vice Versa' (1988) sans the supernatural elements. In the latter, a father's mind is transferred to the body of his son and vice versa through magical powers from a Tibetan skull. I believe that one of the problems that critics had with 'Dutch' was that Hughes had a penchant for creating characters who were extreme opposites and the large contrast may have seen too far apart. Dutch and Doyle could not be more different from each other but their slow-growing bond is part of Doyle's road to redemption. More, critics may also have thought Hughes's script belabored on this aspect too much and found Dutch and Doyle's relationship overly contrived. However, Doyle's conversion is not easily mapped out. By the end, he is still OCD (especially for his own cleanliness). Dutch has to work very hard to teach Doyle some difficult lessons and win him over but eventually, the young lad comes to realize how nice he has it, particularly during a heartwarming scene in a center for displaced families. This is an example of several genuinely charming scenes.
The other area that works well in 'Dutch' is Alan Silvestri's score. Silvestri wrote a two-voice piano theme that gets at Doyle's unhappiness and his vulnerabilities. When he tries to call his mom for help at a pay phone, the music underscores the melancholy in Doyle's face over his parents' divorce. Silvestri also penned a Rotaesque circus march that meshes well with O'Neill's sight gags; Dutch tries to amuse and entertain Doyle to a fireworks show. The "Be Pathetic" scene where Dutch and Doyle pose as homeless to hitch a ride with two young women (who are hookers, unbeknownst to them) contains a long, strained violin that accentuates their predicament.
Twentieth Century Fox gave Anchor Bay a dated master of 'Dutch' to work with and the age shows in this AVC-encoded, 1.85:1 presentation. White speckles crop up during the opening credits and reappear periodically throughout. There are also several instances of dirt and some hairline traces on the print. The autumnal colors look semi-bright while the wintry scenes are characteristically drab and rather bleak. Thankfully, there are no cigarette burns or reel-change markings. Skintones appear rather pale and pasty for the outdoor scenes. The Blu-ray is probably superior to the LaserDisc transfer and likely a step up from Anchor Bay's DVD but without any additional restoration work. Overall, this is a decent but unremarkable transfer.
'Dutch' was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo and this was replicated on the DVD. Anchor Bay has given it a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. Bass is rendered well and dialogue is generally very clear. During the opening scene, relaxing jazz music is given good directionality across all speakers. There are some music cues, however, that while well balanced, do not exhibit much separation. This likely has to do with the original recording and source limitations. Car vrooms, thunderstorms, and other sound effects are reproduced well on the surround channels. AB has provided English SDH.
The lone extra includes a hazy-looking theatrical trailer of 'Dutch' presented in 4:3. The only real value here is that the trailer shows a snippet or two of deleted/alternate scenes.
'Dutch' was roundly panned during its original release but deserves a second look as a solid John Hughes comedy. Anchor Bay delivers watchable video and very good sound. Hopefully, other films Hughes was involved with will make their way to Blu-ray. 'Mr. Mom' (1983), 'Pretty in Pink' (1986), 'Some Kind of Wonderful' (1987), and 'She's Having a Baby' (1988) are all deserving of high-def treatment.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.