Title: Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Director/Writer: John Hughes
Music: Ira Newborn
Cinematography: Donald Peterman
John Hughes’ side-splitting indoctrination of tolerance acutely draws on our congenital sense of schadenfreude, a time-honored leitmotif that has been part of the furniture in comical tropes, which mirrors a dark streak of human nature that everyone should refrain in real life, but whenever facing a fictive potboiler, it is hard not to kick up one’s heels!
With respect to the cinematic realm, there are atrocious misfires such as Arthur Hiller-helmed, Neil Simon-penned THE OUT OF TOWNERS (1970), a star-vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, thankfully PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES weathers the test of time handsomely well, insofar as the two leads both come off summa cum laude. Steve Martin is designated to a more upright role as a typical middle class family man, the advertising executive Neal Page, who is oddly paired with John Candy’s shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith, a down-to-earth screwball who becomes his scourge in every step of their voyage from New York to Chicago during the pre-Thanksgiving peak hours, which is painfully protracted by force majeure (mostly), and sequentially undergoes three different conveyances like the title indicates, all at the expense of Neal’s mounting exasperation, Del’s carefree kookiness and a final reconciliation.
In a pristine “misery-loves-company” fashion, this 92-minutes train-wreck (partially in its literal meaning too) barrels through a chain of comedy-of-errors where hilarity, embarrassment, camaraderie and spats burgeon, safely reaches its finish-line with a compassion-driven bang, time and again, Hughes’ trademark sympathetic gesture can melt even the most callous heart.
Martin’s legendary, high-octane one-minute “F-words” ranting against a car rental agent (McClurg, retorting “You are really fucked!” with plumb catty vengeance) after he finally has had it, can be attributed to not only the high tide of the film per se, but also his lengthy and fruitful career as well; on the opposite of the scale, Candy runs away with his cordial warmth and self-loving righteousness that is diametrically incongruous with Del’s ghastly comportment, and it is downright up to him to bail out Del from being a completely trumped-up caricature as one may sense Hughes could be over-enthusiastic in making heavy weather of Del’s polarity between repugnance and unpretentiousness, admittedly, that sense of propriety is always a tricky bastard to grasp for any comedy tastemakers, but in the 80s, who in the Hollywood could give Hughes a run for his money in terms of eliciting unalloyed laughter with family friendly sustenance? Mel Brooks, maybe, that could a head-scratching afterthought.