'Harry and the Hendersons': THR's 1987 Review

Universal Pictures/Photofest
'Harry and the Hendersons'
Even the most welcome of sure-thing delights can be disappointing.

On June 5, 1987, Universal and Amblin released Harry and the Hendersons, about a family who takes a lovable Sasquatch into their home. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Is there such a thing as an uncuddly teddy bear, a bad banana split, an unappealing puppy, an unwatched World Series, a less-than-glowing Universal/Amblin summer release? No, but even the most welcome of sure-thing delights can be disappointing. And Harry and the Hendersons is a disappointment.

Any film with ample production values that emulates the wondrous E.T. must be considered a potential blockbuster, but Harry is so excessively cloned that audiences are likely to be disillusioned by its transparent manipulations.

In short, Harry and the Hendersons borrows nearly everything from E.T., except the magic.

Nevertheless, Harry's heart is in the right place, and this film's obvious good intentions must be counted for something.

In these lean times for good, uplifting, family-style entertainment, Harry and the Hendersons will undoubtedly draw some impressive opening numbers, but adults and even younger teens are likely to become restless during early screenings — word of mouth will turn off those potential viewers who don't dot their i's with happy faces or have "Love Is …" posters decorating their bedroom walls.

John Lithgow stars as the head of a 1950s-style "typical" middle-American family — the blond, supportive wife (Melinda Dillon), one-of-each kids (Margaret Langrick, Joshua Rudoy) and a bowser. During their obligatory, indulge-Dad vacation to the woods, they accidentally run over a hairy monster. No mere ape, they think it's the legendary "Bigfoot" who's been occasionally spotted in their Washington woods.

Smelling some fame and quick bucks, Lithgow and brood cart the big fella home only to find him rear up in their house, alive and kicking. He may be big and ferocious looking, but he's kind and sensitive — they quickly take a shine to him, name him "Harry."

While co-producer, director, co-writer William Dear has engendered Harry with some moral leitmotifs as the family rallies to protect and preserve their lovable beast and houseguest, the plotting is so thin and, in some cases, dippy that Harry loses much of its potential emotional intensity.

A subplot involving a cranky anthropologist (Don Ameche) and a crazed, obsessive French hunter (David Suchet) who wants to kill Harry and claim the fame is particularly lame — with rifle and Deer Hunter-type getup, Suchet is at best an out-of-control and not very witty sight gag, hardly a worthy menance.

As the kind-hearted family man, John Lithgow is appealing and winning; he's perfectly cast, a walking and talking embodiment of Americana. Unfortunately, the rest of the Henderson clan is not as winning. Son Ernie (who resembles somewhat the bright, appealing, bespectacled kid in My Three Sons) is shrill and annoying. As the older sister, Margaret Langrick is saddled with a wallflower part, and an important interchange of flowers between her and Harry is greatly lessened by our lack of empathy and identification with her. Similarly, Melinda Dillon as the nice but somewhat ditzy mother is faced with a largely colorless role.

Co-writers Dear, William E. Martin and Ezra D. Rappaport's best, most fleshed-out character is the Hendersons' gossipy neighbor (Lainie Kazan).

Showing deep character lines, however, is the creation and visage of Harry himself. With a countenance that resembles at times an anguished Abe Lincoln, Harry is indeed a lovable and sympathetic "monster." Credit makeup specialist Rick Baker for the creature's superb facial construction — Baker has given Harry a warm and vulnerable look. It is perhaps the film's greatest asset.

Technical credits, as one would expect when Amblin is involved, are top-notch. — Duane Byrge, first published May 28, 1987

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