John Hughes may always be remembered as “that guy who made movies about and for teenagers,” but he was capable of much more than that, as this buddy movie proves. Planes, Trains and Automobiles may lack the sharp angst of such Hughes classics as Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, but that’s because it’s a story meant for a different part of your brain, the one that’s graduated from high school and college and moved into the real world. Teenagers may not have identified with this film in the late ‘80s, but I bet many of them can identify with it now.
Steve Martin plays advertising executive Neal Page, who’s desperately trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Along the way, he meets Del Griffith, a shower curtain ring salesman played by John Candy (his job ends up being more than a throwaway joke during the course of the film, which is a nice touch). Neal is uptight and Del is an outgoing guy who displays his emotions on his sleeve, so naturally this odd couple ends up stuck together as they both try to return home.
When a flight out of New York City is diverted to Wichita because of a snowstorm in Chicago, Neal and Del reluctantly share the last room in the only available motel, complete with an hysterical morning after shot that displays the two of them cuddled together on the bed. They then turn to various modes of transportation, including a train and rental car, as they endure one mishap after another.
Hughes’ knack for pitch-perfect dialogue and believable, well-rounded characters is on full display in this movie. It’s easy to empathize with both Neal and Del, and while the ending is a bit of a stretch (it was hard to believe Neal would turn back on a hunch), Hughes manages to wrap up the story with a nice narrative bow. This type of film has been done many times before and since, but Hughes manages to bring a fresh take to it with his energetic directing style.
Hughes’ career came to a tragic end in 2009, when he suddenly died of heart failure, and his legacy is the centerpiece of this Blu-ray’s main bonus feature, John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast. Broken into two parts for no discernable reason, this 52-minute documentary covers his career and features interviews from many of the people who knew him best. Martin and Candy both appear in archival interviews, along with Hughes himself. Oddly, Molly Ringwald is nowhere to be found.
Many of the current-day interviews also find their way into the 16-minute Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which also offers up copious amounts of footage from a 1987 press conference attended by Candy, Martin, and Hughes, along with some on-set footage. That piece touches on Hughes’ inspiration for the story, along with how Candy and Martin got involved, among many other subjects.
Moving on, John Hughes for Adults features four minutes of insight into his working style. Given its brevity, I’m not sure why the material wasn’t just folded into the Life Moves Pretty Fast documentary, especially since that one touches on some of the same subjects.
Finally, we have a three-minute tribute to John Candy (a better, more comprehensive one can be found on the recent Spaceballs Blu-ray) and a three-minute deleted scene that features Neal’s misadventure with airplane food, complete with Del’s cheerful commentary. It’s a fun scene, but I can understand why it was cut, since it doesn’t move the plot along.
I’ve read that much more deleted footage exists—enough for a three-hour version of the film, supposedly—but it’s all locked away in a vault at Paramount, and Hughes said in the years before he died that much of it had probably disintegrated. Such a shameful way to treat the work of someone who made an indelible mark on film history. I hope it can be found in decent shape and included on a future release of this film.