The turkey has been basted and polished off, the pecan pies devoured and the parade watched, but for many film fans, it isn’t Thanksgiving without a rewatch of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
In the UK, John Hughes’ 1987 comedy classic — about two unlikely friends who seem opposites but are actually much alike — is seen a Christmas film of sorts (one of the more recent DVD and Blu-ray releases is Christmas-themed), and with the season almost upon, it will soon be our turn to join Neal Page and Del Griffith on the raid once more.
And, thanks to a recent discovery, it’s now even better. A new 4K re-release includes over 75 minutes of previously unseen deleted and extended footage that, until this year, was thought lost.
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Seen as something of a risk for Hughes after making a name for himself with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Some Kind of Wonderful — more teenage fare — Planes, Trains, and Automobiles wasn’t as much of a departure as many had envisaged and it was, and always will be, classic Hughes.
Released in 1987, the film was based on an actual flight the writer/director took from New York to Chicago, which itself was re-routed to Wichita, Kansas, and it reportedly took him five days to get home with various delays.
The experience left such a profound mark on him that he wrote the first draft of the script in three days and immediately wanted to make the film, both as a comedy and as a chance to skew his target audience from young to slightly older.
The roles of Del Griffith and Neal Page, the unlikely duo stuck together for days with no end in sight, were played by the late, great John Candy and Steve Martin, both of whom wanted to work with Hughes. Indeed, Martin was immediately sold on the film when he read the 'car seat adjustment' and his now infamous 'F-bomb' tirade at the Marathon Car Rental desk.
Flying into cinemas, the film was a success, grossing $49million in the US alone, as well as topping the UK box office, and has not only become a staple of Thanksgiving but also established itself both as one of cinema's comedies and odd-couple/best friend films.
Candy and Martin gave arguably their best performances of their fruitful careers, echoed by both who name it the best film they have ever worked on. But, for all its charm, laughs, and subtle underpinnings, one question has long remained unanswered in the thirty-five years since its debut.
Whatever happened to the unseen version of the film that was teased in the theatrical trailer?
There has been much speculation over the years that the footage would never see the light of day, due to the passage of time.
But the footage did survive and was recently found as part of the filmmaker's archives. While the quality is only of VHS standard — and one that itself has been worn down over the years — it gives us a sense of the original version of the film, how much Hughes had filmed, and how good the rapport and improvisational skills of Martin and Candy were together, so much so that the first assembled cut reportedly ran for 3 ½ hours.
Much of the excised footage has been found and much of it is very funny, even if it was probably smart of Hughes to have cut much of it as, like the stuffed bird at the centre of Thanksgiving, it would have been perhaps a little too much with such an epic Avatar-like runtime.
Well worth a watch is a video made by Hats Off Entertainment about the original “lost” version that appeared on YouTube in 2020 that explored the history and went in depth into the deleted scenes, alternative takes, extended footage, and the trailers that contained much of the footage and is a fantastic companion piece to the 4K release.
What you can find on the disc is this:
Waiting to Board (Extended)
Airplane Food (Deleted)
Dooby's Taxiola (Extended)
Edelen's Braidwood Inn - Part 1 (Extended)
Edelen's Braidwood Inn - Part 2 (Extended)
Broke at Breakfast (Extended)
99 Bottles of Beer on the Bus (Deleted)
The El Rancho Motel (Extended)
The Oshkonoggin Cheese Truck (Extended)
Much of the footage is from pre-existing scenes that have either been trimmed or alternative versions used in the final film, but all the scenes provide a fascinating window into the fun had by all on the set and having Martin and Candy so in-sync with their performances and their characters that they recorded so much.
Martin told Scene by Scene with Mark Cousins: “We would ad-lib longer than the reel, so he (Hughes) would let it run for 11 minutes without cutting… the original cut of the film was 4 ½ hours. There would be a director’s cut to see!”
There’s a bounty of extra scenes and laughs to be had in the plethora of scenes, with the Braidwood Inn and Breakfast scenes arguably the funniest of the bunch but as with the film itself, there’s nothing better than spending time with Neal and Del, whether on land, sky or rail.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles 4K Ultra HD is on sale now. Watch a trailer below.