For dedicated fans, no Thanksgiving is complete without a helping hand from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which turns 35 on Friday.
The plight of Steve Martin’s strained advertising executive Neal Page – who finds himself stranded by travel delays with shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (comedy legend John Candy) and just trying to get home him for his family’s turkey dinner — is essential holiday viewing.
“Around Thanksgiving, it’s kind of all over the place,” Martin says of the classic 1987 road comedy – now available in a 4K Ultra home version – which was infused with even more emotion after Candy’s death in 1994 and writer/director John Hughes in 2009.
“It’s tragic,” says Martin. “I would like them to see how this movie has that momentum. When it came out, it was okay. But it was almost a bigger hit 10 years later.”
Martin, 77, spoke to USA TODAY about insisting on shooting a car rental scene without f-bombs and the deleted scene he still misses.
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Question: “Planes” was shot over 87 freezing days in climates ranging from Buffalo, New York, to Braidwood, Illinois. How many real trips have bled into the movie?
Answer: Everything in the film happened during the filming of the film, missed matches, missed planes. So many trips. We were supposed to shoot in a city, but there was no snow, so we moved everything to Buffalo. Part of the joke in the movie is that John Candy’s Del is wearing a parka while I’m wearing a suit. And it was definitely 14 degrees when I walked through that field after the train broke down.
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There’s a deleted plane scene from John Candy recounting the effects of “Psycho” on the shower ring business. How much of the film was ad-libbing?
There was a lot of ad-libbing, because John Hughes loved it. He wouldn’t cut. It’s movie days, so you’d make a scene and hear the movie run out (make noise). John and I were looking into each other’s eyes like, “Are we moving on?” Then we had to shoot improvised reaction shots and the day would be extended to 4 p.m. It started out as a 145-page script. Eventually we realized the movie was moving so slowly and was weeks behind schedule. John and I made a deal: no more publicity.
Did either of you burst out laughing, especially during the improvisations?
We laughed a lot. But we did the laugh part before rolling to get that out of our system because we would figure out what we were going to do. The motel bed scene with “these aren’t pillows” that we made up on set, and then we shot it.
It’s funny how well you look snuggled up in that motel bed. How was it to shoot?
We were comfortable with each other, we liked each other. He would make me laugh. It’s hard to explain why it was funny, but we were so together that we would come on set and pretend to fight. Somehow take the frustration out of long days, but laugh it off.
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Were there any improvised takes in Neal’s famous rental car tirade?
I did not improvise. There is a certain rhythm to John’s writing. And if you start saying the F-word whenever you want, it’s just going to break down and not be poetic.
You write in your new book, “Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions,” that you shot that scene without the f-bombs?
I just thought it was convenient. At that time, the planes had cleaned versions. I said to (Hughes): “They’re going to need it for the planes.” So we shot it. No swear. It was like “I want a car right now!” As far as I know, he never saw daylight or a plane.
Fast forward to a now classic scene. So clearly no regrets for the f-bombs that pushed the film to an R rating?
No, it’s a famous scene. Mike Nichols, the great director, once said to me, “In every movie you make, there should be a scene where you say to yourself, can we do this? It certainly applies here.
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Is there a cut scene that you really miss now?
There’s a scene at the very end where I come back to find John’s character sitting alone in the train station. That’s when the truth comes out. He has no home, he just travels. Then he said, “Usually I’m fine. But during the holidays, I usually get attached to someone. But this time, I couldn’t let go.” It’s a very touching scene. I remember sitting across from John thinking, “Wow, this guy is killing this.”
I was surprised that the scene was cropped. I never understood why and I didn’t ask John because it’s his business.
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