While I may not be real big on Thanksgiving, and hardly even consider it a holiday, there is one movie that I always make sure to watch every November. That movie is the John Hughes classic - Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It features Steve Martin (as Neal Page) and John Candy (as Del Griffith), when they were still in their prime, on a disaster-ridden traveling adventure in an attempt to make it home in time for Thanksgiving.
Whenever people name their favorite comedies, this flick always seems to be forgotten somehow, which is a surprise to me since a lot of the things in it are so easy to relate to. So with that in mind, I wanted to pay tribute to it here with a list of what I consider to be the best things about the movie.
#1: The Boss!
The movie starts off with one of my favorite scenes in which Neal Page (Martin) is late for his plane home because he's stuck in a meeting with his boss. The boss is taking his time looking over some ads that are extremely similar and can't seem to make a decision. And then, just when you think he's going to voice his opinion, he slouches back into his chair and continues looking at the design concepts - dragging out the meeting even longer. The awkward silences and the desperate looks in the eyes of Page and his co-workers are classic, and if you've ever worked in a corporate business environment, you're probably all too familiar with this kind of situation. That's why it hits so close to home.
John Hughes often liked sticking little clips in after the credits of his movies (something I always appreciate in a film) and Plains, Trains and Automobiles was no exception. After the credits are done rolling, we see Neal's boss still in the executive board room looking over the design proofs with his Thanksgiving turkey dinner by his side.
#2: The Ultimate Taxi!
After all flights are canceled due to inclement weather, Neal agrees to pay for the cab ride because the traveler he just met, Del Griffith (Candy), says he knows the manager of a hotel and can get him a room. What they didn't know is that they were going to be riding in the ultimate taxi - Dooby's Taxiola!
This taxi is a completely tricked out Pontiac Bonneville with glowing skulls, flashing lights, flames, pornographic decorations, leopard skin patterned seat covers, novelty air fresheners and more. When you have a Taxi pick you up that's blasting "I'm The Only One" by Balaam and the Angel, and the license plate on said taxi reads "WOLF"... you know you've found yourself a gem.
And honestly, how can you go wrong with a driver named Dooby? Dooby! The man has hair that belongs back in the 50s and a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. He's even got rubber duckies lining the ceiling of his cab for chrissakes. Rubber duckies! One could only dream of a taxi ride being filled with so much awesomeness and excitement.
So after kindly taking them the long way to the hotel on the "scenic route", even though it's the middle of the night and totally dark out, the cab comes to a stop and displays its final attribute:
Hydraulics! I've said it once and I'll say it again... BEST TAXI EVER.
#3: Share Thy Bed!
Just about everybody's had to split a hotel room with a friend at some point or another in their lives. Sure, you might lose a little privacy and quiet, but normally it's not too big of a problem and you at least get to split the cost of the room. This situation, however, is basically what it would be like if you were splitting a hotel room with Satan. Only Satan would probably make it a little less painful.
After arriving at the hotel, the two quickly discover that they're gonna have to share a room since there's only one left. That's bad enough, but when they discover that they also have to share the same BED, it's a case of hetero-horror for these two fellas. The insanely creepy smile on John Candy's face during this scene has me convinced that he should've played a serial killer at some point during his career.
Before going to sleep, Neal takes a shower, only to discover upon exiting that Del has already used all the towels except a tiny face cloth. So he does his best to dry off and go to bed. Problem is, while Neal was in the shower, Del decided to drink some beer and pop a quarter into the bed so it would vibrate. I need not tell you the end result of that bright idea. Neal begrudgingly tries to go to sleep on his beer-soaked side of the bed, but is unable to when Del continues to make some godawful sounds while trying to clear his sinuses.
It's a night from hell, but they still manage to eventually get some sleep...
They wake up in the morning, realizing that they had been spooning all night. Del even gives Neal a kiss on the ear and nuzzles him as they both smile, clearly thinking they're with somebody else. When they wake up completely, the following discussion takes place:
Neal: Del... Why did you kiss my ear?
Del: Why are you holding my hand?
Neal: Where's your other hand?
Del: Between two pillows.
Neal: Those aren't pillows!
Del & Neal: Aaaaghhhh!!!!!
Completely horrified, they immediately jump from the bed and try to play off the fact that they had just spent the night in each others arms by talking about manly things, like sports. Classic.
#4: That's No Towel!
After a night of unknowingly snuggling with Del, Neal goes into the bathroom to start his morning routine. He starts splashing water onto his face, without even looking into the sink, and then notices that it smells awful. That's because Del used the sink to wash his socks the night before. Realizing that he just washed his face with Del's dirty sock water, Neal shuts his eyes and quickly reaches around for a towel to dry off his face...
You'd think he would've learned his lesson about not looking at something before using it, but Neal grabs what he thinks is a towel and dries off his face with it. He soon discovers that he just dried off his face with a pair of Del's extra-extra-large underwear. Hell of a way to start off your day, eh? Gotta love the look of utter disgust on his face as the camera pans out.
#5: The Salesman!
After being robbed of all their money, Del decides to earn some spending cash with a nice little scam of his. You see, Del is the ultimate salesman. In fact, he's the Director of Sales for American Light & Fixtures shower curtain ring division. That's right, he sells shower curtain rings, and he sells them well. Seems like everybody in the country, no matter where they travel, have bought shower curtain rings from Del or they owe him a favor because he hooked them up with some free ones.
Well, he realizes that some of his customers aren't that bright and fools them into buying these shower curtain rings by telling them stuff like: "This is your Dianne Sawyer autographed earring. You ever watch 60 minutes?" "This is Czechoslovakian Ivory!" "This is your Walter Cronkite Moon Ring!" "These were originally hand-crafted for the grand wizard of China back in the 4th century. These of course these aren't the originals, but they are replicas, very good replicas too."
Soon enough, everybody is wearing his shower curtain rings as jewelry and Del now has plenty of spending cash for both him and Neal. Salesman of the year.
#6: Neal Is "Fucking" Angry!
After he decides to part ways with Del and find his own way home, Neal rents a car and they drop him off in the parking lot where his car is supposed to be. When he gets there, the car is missing and the shuttle bus has already left. Realizing that he has to now walk for miles down a highway in the cold winter weather just to get back to the airport terminal where he rented the car, Neal goes ballistic and starts shouting his ass off and throws away his rental agreement papers.
Once he's done walking all the way back, Neal comes face to face with the car rental lady who's gabbing it up on the phone with her family, laughing and snorting loudly, instead of tending to him. When she finally hangs up and asks Neal how she can help him, he unleashes a classic verbal assault on her super-cheery ass:
Neal: You can start by wiping that fucking dumbass smile off your rosy fucking cheeks! Then you can give me a fucking automobile: a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick! Four fucking wheels and a seat!
Car Rental Lady: I really don't care for the way you're speaking to me.
Neal: And I really don't care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn't fucking there. And I really didn't care to fucking walk down a fucking highway and across a fucking runway to get back here to have you smile at my fucking face. I want a fucking car RIGHT... FUCKING... NOW!
He said "fucking" 18 times in less than a minute. That's gotta be a record or something.
Next, the car rental lady asks to see his rental agreement and he tells her that he threw it away. She then stares him dead in the eyes and says, "You're fucked."
You know what that is? That's fucking classic is what that is.
#7: Better Off Dead!
Already fuming from getting screwed over by the car rental agency, Neal is in no mood to make small talk with the cab dispatcher guy that's trying to help him get a taxi. So, Neal insults the guy's manhood and gets knocked on his ass as a result. When he falls to the street, Del almost runs over him with a car that he rented.
The cab dispatcher guy starts yelling at Del, telling him to move his car. "Why you insensitive asshole! Can't you see we have an injured man here? Now I'll move my car, but I want you to help him up," Del demands. "Gladly!" says the cab dispatcher as he prepares to "help" Neal up...
And by "help" I mean he rams his hand into Neal's testicles and picks him up by them. Kudos to the sound guy for creating such a thunderous sound for when the guy first makes contact with Neal's cojones... it's pretty much the only sound that could accurately represent the pain one would experience during a scenario like that.
#8: Going The Wrong Way!
While Neal catches some shuteye, it's Del's turn to drive them back home towards Chicago in the middle of the night. After jamming out to the radio, Del works up a sweat and decides to take off his parka. But rather than pulling over to the side of the road and taking it off, he tries doing it while driving. This results in both of his coat arms getting stuck on the side latches of his seat. Having both arms completely tied up, Del doesn't step on the brakes, he starts steering the car with his knees like the genius he is. This causes the car to spin out of control off the side of the road, but Del slams on the breaks and they're seemingly ok.
He gets back onto the highway, but doesn't realize he's going the wrong way. Some people on the other side of the road even try to flag them down shouting, "You're going the wrong way!" But Del just dismisses it, "Oh, he's drunk! How would he know where we're going!?" Maybe because Del is headed directly for two trucks that are driving side-by-side?
The car screeches in between the two trucks as sparks fly everywhere while both Neal and Del's terror is displayed as two skeletons with their eyes popped out. Neal then looks over at Del and sees him as the devil. Considering the day he's had, that's probably not too far off... especially since the car catches on fire shortly after this.
#9: Blue Moon Of Kentucky!
The next day, the two of them hop back on the road in their car which has been burned to a crisp, yet still runs. What's more, they're both in extremely good moods - probably because they've been through such hell together that they know there's nowhere to go but up from here.
They receive bewildered stares from the people the drive by in their smoldering, snow-covered car, it's freezing outside and they've been through traveling hell, yet they're completely oblivious to it all. All they wanna do is drive down the road while singing the lyrics to "Blue Moon of Kentucky"...
Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining
Shine on the one that's gone and been untrue
Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining
Shine on the one who's gone and left me blue
It was on a moonlit night
Stars shinin' bright
They whispered from on high
Your love has said good-bye
Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining
Seeing them happy as can be, singing while driving that piece of shit down the road, you can't help but want to be right there singing in the car with them. I'm sure a lot of people couldn't care less about this part of the movie, but I always loved it, and thought it one of the many moments that showed a lot of heart (much like Del's amazing "I like me" speech, and the ending when Neal learns the truth about Del's wife).
#10: Owen! The Man, The Myth, The Legend!
I prefer to save the best for last, and oddly enough, my favorite part of the movie is all due to a different actor: Dylan Baker. Earlier in the movie, when Del and Neal get robbed, the hotel manager gets his son, Owen, to give them a ride to Wichita for the train station. Only thing is, Owen is a little... odd.
The apple seems to have fallen far from the tree because Gus' son, Owen, appears to have been raised on a diet of chaw and can barely speak straight. After spitting out his tobacco, he wipes his mouth off and then shakes Neal's hand. "I'm to drive you to Wichita to catch a train? Train don't run out of Wichita... unlessin' you're a hog or a cattle. People train runs out of St-Stubbville." He then tries to get his tiny wife to help them with all their luggage, and when Del and Neal decline, Owen proudly proclaims, "She don't mind. She's short and skinny, but she's strong. Her first baby come out sideways. She didn't scream or nothing."
The greatest thing about Owen, however, isn't his slow, broken Midwestern accent... it's how he randomly breaks to clear his sinuses/throat. The sound combined with the facial expression is hands down one of the finest things you will ever witness in a movie. But no words can truly describe it... you must see it for yourself. So here, take a look!
It really is a great movie that deserves more attention than it ever seems to get, especially come Thanksgiving every year. Definitely makes ya miss the days when John Candy was still around. The days when Steve Martin didn't do movies like "The Pink Panther". The days when John Hughes didn't write FIVE movies about a slobbering St. Bernard dog named "Beethoven". But hey, at least we still have classics like this to watch, and perhaps someday we'll even get to see all the extra footage that was filmed for this movie. The current release is only 90 minutes, but they actually filmed 3 hours worth. Hey, if Tupac can release rap albums from the afterlife, they should be able to give us an extra hour-and-a-half of classic John Candy and Steve Martin hilarity. It's not too much to ask.
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