John Candy has always been one of my favorite movie comedians. Something about Candy, regardless of whether he was doing a sketch in SCTV, playing Uncle Buck, or a private investigator in Who’s Harry Crumb, he just seems like a guy that is the friendly uncle everybody loves. It could be the meanest character on paper but he comes across as a big teddy bear. Today, we explore a title called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He plays a Shower Ring salesman, that sounds like a teddy bear to me.
New York City, two days before Thanksgiving. Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) is busy waiting on his boss to make a decision about which cosmetics ad to go with. The guy just can’t make up his mind and Neal has a 6:00 plane ride to Chicago to catch. Finally Neal is able to leave and runs out the door and goes down the elevator out to the street. There is a very long line to deal with to get a cab and it looks like Mr. Page is going nowhere fast.
Neal at some point does spot a cab but it just so happens that another guy (played by Kevin Bacon) spots the same cab from across the street. It soon becomes a race to get to the mode of transportation in the shortest amount of time. Ultimately, the other guy wins and Neal is forced again to look for another way to catch a cab. After more tense moments, he finds an empty cab only to be taken at the last second by a New York attorney (played by Nicholas Wyman).
Mr. Page pleads with the attorney to let him take the cab. The attorney finally settles on $75 to just take the cab away from him. But as soon as the cash is handed over, the cab takes off with a trunk and a suitcase in the back. Neal runs after the cab and catches up eventually. He opens the door only to find a surprised man (played by John Candy) who immediately slams the door back and then the cab takes off to the airport. Neal eventually finds his way to the airport.
Neal calls his wife, Susan (played by Laila Robins) and tells her that he should be home by 10pm. Kiss kiss, love ya long time. He gets to the terminal and sits down only to see the surprised man, now known as Del Griffith reading a copy of “The Canadian Mounted”. Del is a shower ring salesman and is trying to get to Chicago as well. Once Del realizes how he accidentally took a cab from Neal, he tries to make up for it but Neal just tells him to forget it.
They board the plane and unfortunately Neal’s first class ticket is really just a coach ticket. He protests briefly before giving up and going back to coach. It just so happens that his seat is next to Del Griffith. Neal is frustrated with the situation and becomes even more unnerved when Del decides to take off his shoes and socks. Before taking a rest, the shower ring salesman is convinced that this plane will not land in Chicago because of the weather outside the terminal.
Later, they are awakened by the cockpit who announces “Welcome to Wichita, Kansas”. Unfortunately, the plane did not make it to Chicago. Upset and tired, Neal tries to find another way out of Wichita. It is not going to happen on this cold night. Del chats up a conversation with Neal and it seems that he was able to corral a room for the night at the Braidwood Inn. Eventually, Mr. Page caves in and decides to head off to the Inn and see if he can get a room as well. Little does he know that his adventures with Del Griffith are just beginning.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles has always been one of my favorite films. The sad fact is that it had been many years since I have seen it. I would reckon to say at least half a decade has passed. But, due to my experiences in life, I honestly think it is funnier now than when I first watched the movie as a teenager. Steve Martin and John Candy are fantastic together. Steve Martin (despite being funny in his own right) plays the straight man and John Candy does his best over the top comedy performance by being warm and charismatic.
In fact, despite the film really only having two major characters, it does wonders with small yet important roles. We get Kevin Bacon, Edie McClurg and even Ben Stein in these small but unforgettable parts. Sure, since this is a John Hughes written and directed film, we are familiar with these actors showing up but they play such good roles that we do not mind one bit. There is very little not to like in this movie (as with most pictures by Hughes), as long as one is able to stretch reality just a little bit.
But PTA (as I have started to call it over the years), is something very important (that is missing from many movies today) in addition to being hilarious. It has a heart of gold. Despite all of the horrible things that happen between Neal Page and Del Griffith, the picture does a fantastic job to bring it together in the end. The ending is amazing and we learn so much about Del Griffith and how wonderful of a man he really is. If there is a dry eye in the house after this movie, then perhaps the viewer needs to go find a heart because they surely lost the one they had.
The video is in 1.85:1 widescreen presentation at 1080p resolution. This is the best I have seen the movie and it looks like Paramount really cleaned up the print. Sure, there is still some haze and a little bit of pixilation but one can really see the detail in a lot of the signs and various landmarks along the way. Color is great, one really gets a sense of the environment and how much road Steve and John are traveling as they move from New York to Chicago and everywhere in between.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio for English (also included are Spanish and Portuguese Mono tracks). It is easy to think that this movie is strictly dialog in nature because of the relationship formed between Martin and Candy. However, I noticed with the format change how much environment and music really play into the movie. “Mess Around” by Ray Charles or the car crash is a great example of this. Subtitles are also included for English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
- Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles 16:38: This looks like an interview session from 1987 in which John Hughes, Steve Martin and John Candy (who is fashionably late) are mixed in with film clips and recent interviews. This serves as the best film related extra on the disc.
- John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast – The Voice of a Generation 27:39: So starts the John Hughes love session. Not that he doesn’t deserve all of this extra material but unfortunately not too much of this focuses on Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The first featurette deals with John’s numerous movies including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which I really want to watch right now), Pretty in Pink and She’s Having a Baby. John really was in tune with the teenage voice and gave us a lot of great movies that really spoke to my generation.
- John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast – Heartbreak and Triumph: The Legacy of John Hughes 25:51: The second featurette is more personal in nature and goes over John Hughes’ life, eventual move away from the business and finally, his unfortunate death at the age of 59 just a couple of years ago. This also focuses on John’s relationship with his actors (in particular, Molly Ringwald and John Candy) and how he would adjust the script to meet their personalities.
Again, this is archival footage of John mixed with more recent interviews from people he has worked with and film clips.
- John Hughes for Adults 4:02: A very short featurette focusing on the more adult films John has made, such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
- A Tribute to John Candy 3:01: A very short tribute to one of the greatest comedians of all time. They focus on how gifted he was comically but also dramatically which really comes through in this movie. If Mr. Hughes gets nearly an hour of featurettes, they surely could have spent 15-20 on John Candy.
- Deleted Scene – Airplane Food 3:24: A very funny scene of John Candy, Steve Martin, and I believe that’s Bill Erwin on the airplane and eating (or not eating) their meal en route to Chicago. This scene shows up a lot in television broadcasts but is worth your time. Supposedly, there is a much longer cut of the movie floating around somewhere but it might be lost to the world at this point.
It is easy to find myself to be so passionate about this movie after not watching it for a number of years. I was happy to see the characters and I was even more interested in going along for the journey with Del Griffith and Neal Page. Maybe because I have a soft spot for John Candy and perhaps my wife has even a larger soft spot for Steve Martin. Or perhaps, the characters blend so wonderful together into a neat package of masterful movie making.
The disc is in a nice package (currently exclusive at Best Buy unless you find it second-hand through a third party outlet) with a lenticular cover. The video and audio are the best we have ever seen and the extras are decent (though a little light on Steve Martin participation as well as John Candy appreciation). This gets a great recommendation for one of the best comedies of all time. People of any age can enjoy this (there is a R rating and some vulgarity but honestly, it isn’t bad) and they should enjoy this often as necessary.