For many years, I never really considered Home Alone a Christmas movie. Of course, it takes place on Christmas and has nearly everything to do with the spirit of Christmas, but for whatever reason, my family never really watched it around the holidays like we would some other movies.
I can very clearly remember seeing Home Alone in theaters when it came out, but after that, we watched it on VHS a few times, and that was about it. Knowing how strict my parents were in the early 90s, they probably didn’t like the movie and didn’t want myself and my older brother to try to replicate Kevin’s burglar traps on each other.
These days? It’s found itself on my house’s “must watch” list around Christmas. It’s not even a great movie, in my opinion, but I really enjoy it for the nostalgia it evokes for the 90s. Not just the clothing, cars, or hairstyles, it’s more so the simpleness of it all: no cell phones, no internet, no constant connection.
Even more important than all that, it’s the child-like excitement Kevin gets from Christmas and the absolute pure joy of it all. Every year my wife and I say that we plan to take it slow during the Christmas season and really enjoy it, but of course, life gets in the way, and we blink, and it’s already halfway through January.
Kevin’s youthful joy is such unadulterated fun, especially the fun he has when he first discovered he’s been left home alone. I think we can all go back and think of the first time Mom and Dad left us alone and the list of things we did just because nobody was home to stop us. For me, I remember racing to the television to turn on pro wrestling when my parents went out to dinner since it wasn’t allowed when they were home.
After Kevin grows comfortable with the idea of being alone, he does what any kid would do. He gets into things he’s not allowed to, like his brother’s skin magazines and his Beebee gun. Kevin eventually finds his way downstairs and makes himself a massive bowl of ice cream and puts in a movie he probably was told he was too young to watch. Feeding “Angels with Dirty Souls” into the VCR, he sits back in his Father’s easy chair (a no-no in most households) and watches a scene out of an old 40s gangster noir film.
In the scene from “Angels with Filthy Souls,” Johnny, a gangster seated behind a desk, is met by Snakes, another mobster. Sent by an unseen man named “Acey,” Snakes asks for the money Johnny owed Acey. Johnny replies, “Too bad Acey ain’t in charge no more,” and implies he was not going to be handing over any sort of money. Snakes begins to grow nervous, especially when Johnny says Acey is upstairs taking a bath, insinuating he’d killed him earlier. Johnny then remarks, “I tell ya what I’m gonna give you, Snakes,” and stands up from behind his desk holding a Tommy gun. Snakes is told to get out before the count of ten, but Johnny jumps quickly from two to ten. Laughing like a maniac, he shoots until the magazine is empty, killing Snakes. He then says the famous line, “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”
Kevin uses the scene from the gangster movie twice during the course of Home Alone to his advantage. He plays the tape when a pizza delivery man arrives, causing the Little Nero’s pizza guy to flee, thinking the homeowner is shooting at him. Later, Marv and Harry come by to break into the house, thinking no one is home. In what was actually their third attempt to break into the McCallister house, Marv tries to break through the doggy door in the kitchen. Kevin hits play on the VCR and lights off firecrackers timed perfectly to the gunshots. This scares away Marv, who retreats to the van where his partner Harry is waiting.
Like many viewers, I always thought this was a real movie. In the 90s, before the internet, you couldn’t just pick up your phone and ask Google. Nor could you easily find old movies that probably never made it to VHS since there wasn’t a great database of movies like we have at our fingertips today. So, I always just assumed it was one of the many older films that were lost to time that I’d never see. Even in high school, I once asked the school librarian about it. She knew the scene from “Home Alone” well, but she too had never seen the older film, but she never once suggested it wasn’t a real movie.
I never really thought about it again after that, until many years later, on Christmas Day in 2018, actor Seth Rogan tweeted: “My entire childhood, I thought the old-timey movie that Kevin watches in Home Alone (Angels With Filthy Souls) was actually an old movie.”
Good to know I wasn’t alone.
Home Alone’s starring actor, Macaulay Culkin, even tweeted back, “Me too!” Culkin is known for his sarcasm, so I’m not sure he was being 100% serious and one has to wonder how the film’s star didn’t realize they created the scene just for the movie.
To be clear, the minute and a half clip was written and filmed exclusively for Home Alone (and another scene was made later for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.) According to a 2013 Vanity Fair magazine article, it was filmed in a single afternoon on the soundstage created inside an abandoned high school gymnasium.
The title, “Angels with Filthy Souls,” is likely a reference to the real-life gangster film from 1938 that starred James Cagney titled “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Home Alone‘s art director, Dan Webster, told Vanity Fair that he created the title “Angels with Filthy Souls” because they needed a label for the VHS tape that Kevin would put in the VCR. Webster said it sounded like “an old gangster movie” and didn’t give it a second thought.
In the film-within-a-film, the mob boss Johnny was played by veteran character actor Ralph Foody. His victim, Snakes, was portrayed by Michael Guido. In the same Vanity Fair article, Guido reveals the roles were initially reversed, but Ralph Foody had recently had knee surgery and could barely stand; therefore, he was physically unable to perform the over-the-top dramatic death required of Snakes. Michael Guido said he was originally very happy to switch roles until he learned a sequel was on the way, and since his character was deceased he couldn’t return. Whoops!
Ralph returned for his role as Johnny in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” for what would become a faux sequel-within-a-sequel, titled “Angels with Even Filthier Souls.” In that scene, a gangster moll named Carlotta walks into Johnny’s office. He’s sitting next to a Christmas tree in a tuxedo and smoking a cigarette. Johnny eventually accuses Carlotta of “smooching with his brother.” She denies it, and he grabs his Tommy gun from under the Christmas tree and makes her beg for her life on her knees. He eventually gives her to the count of three to escape but murders her on two with the Tommy gun. At the end of the scene, he sarcastically wishes her a “Merry Christmas… and a Happy New Year.”
Much like in the first movie, Kevin uses the tape of this movie to escape trouble. When the hotel staff arrives to question him about using a stolen credit card, he sneaks out by playing the scene from the bedroom side of the suite. The staff, thinking Johnny was really shooting at them, ran into the hallway and crawled away on their hands and knees.
As some fun trivia, Home Alone‘s original script ended with Marv and Harry in prison, watching “Angels with Filthy Souls” with their fellow inmates. That would have been fun to see. “Angels with Filthy Souls” is also seen playing on a television in the 2019 film “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu.”
It’s also worth considering that Marv must have seen “Angels with Filthy Souls” at some point. After being scared off by Kevin’s movie and firecrackers, he told Harry he found Johnny’s voice familiar as well as having heard the name “Snakes” before.
You can also watch the full versions of each of the short films in the “Featurettes” section of each of the Home Alone DVDs.
So, how about that? The old movie in Home Alone wasn’t a real movie. It was all just Hollywood magic after all.
Keep the change, ya filthy animals!