Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of turkey day this week’s Monday Pick is the John Hughes comedy road trip classic Plains, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), which stars Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy in one of his most lovable roles.
Working off the “road trip” concept pioneered first by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Martin and Candy hit the open road in order to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving.
Steve Martin stars as high-strung ad executive Neil Page who is in New York City on a business trip. After spending all day as an executive looks over the latest ad campaign, Neil signals to his fellow ad man that he has to catch a plane back to Chicago. Leaving the city at the start of rush hour begins Neil’s three daylong odyssey to make it home to his family in time.
Hughes was the quintessential master of comedy in the 1980s and this film is no exception. The laughs begin as Neil spots an empty cab on Park Avenue. He locks eyes with an un-credited Kevin Bacon who also spots the cab a block or so away.
The two men engage in a foot race in order to commandeer the cab. About to hail the cab and win, Neil trips over a large steamer trunk and falls headfirst into the street.
Neil looks back and sneers at the trunk that was responsible for his misfortune. Neil spots a second cab and pays an attorney in order to make it to the airport on time. Unbeknownst to Neil, another passenger has hailed the cab and Neil is once again left behind. He runs down the cab and orders the passenger out. After taking a bus to LaGuardia, Neil is about to make his flight until a blizzard over Chicago forces a flight delay.
While waiting at the gate, Neil locks eyes with a familiar looking man and soon realizes that he was the man who stole his cab on Park Avenue. John Candy stars as Del Griffith, a shower curtain ring salesmen who is also on his way back home to Chicago. Del apologizes for the fact that he stole Neil’s cab and tries to make it up to him. The uptight Neil passes it off as a series of misfortunes and hopes to just make it back home.
While in flight, the plane is re-routed to Wichita, Kansas due to the horrible weather conditions. Once again, Neil is forced to tolerate the company of Del who manages to find a vacant motel until the weather clears and they are able to catch another flight. Hughes’ dialogue and the comedy genius of both Martin and Candy are wonderful. Neil asks Del about the flight conditions and Del replies
“There’s no way on earth we’re gonna make it out of here tonight. We’ve got a better chance of playing pick up sticks with our butt cheeks before getting a flight out of here by daybreak.” Classic.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when they arrive at a motel in the middle of the night and grab the last vacant room. Forced to share a room for the night, the two men lock eyes on the single queen size bed in the room and realize they must not only share the room, but the bed as well. Once they settle in and attempt to go to sleep, Neil explodes in anger towards Del due to his atrocious nocturnal habits of clearing his sinuses, and leaving beer cans which explode on a vibrating bed.
Neil begins to berate Del and puts him down for all of his qualities and that he is the reason for all his misfortunes since New York. The lovable yet accident-prone Del defends himself against the uptight, self-centeredness, and cynical Neil and the two men go back to sleep. During the night a thief breaks into their room and steals their money. With little money left and only Neil with a legit charge card forces the men to travel by any means necessary in order to get home.
After spending a few days with one another Neil begins to embrace Del as not only a road companion, but also a true friend who understands him. In one such touching scene, Neil has just enough money and bribes a motel clerk to allow him to stay the night by offering a nice wrist watch in lieu of payment. Del offers the same but a Casio watch instead. The clerk denies him and Del is forced to spend the night in a rental car which caught on fire. Neil offers to share his room to his freezing companion and the two men enter another crossroads in their newfound relationship while getting home to their families for Thanksgiving.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles proved to be yet another phenomenal hit for Hughes who after just only a few years, became the voice of the teenage youth movement in the 1980s with such classic hits as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. It grossed over one hundred and fifty million dollars and solidified Hughes once more as a comic genius and a talented director.
Both Martin and Candy are so wonderful together and Candy’s lines steal most of the screen time between the two. The dialogue is endlessly quotable, and the laughs are non-stop. It is a film that is watched by my family and I every Thanksgiving and we all perform our favorite lines from the film whenever we watch it.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is available on DVD through Paramount Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.