Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles


People who worked with him say John Candy was possibly the most genuinely nice person ever to come to Hollywood. They say that about a lot of people, after they’re dead, but one anecdote is enough to make me believe it. Maureen O’Hara came out of retirement to co-star with him in Only the Lonely, but didn’t decide to take it until she could meet him. Within a few minutes they were close friends, which usually happened with John. So the production goes on location, and John finds out that he’s got a trailer, and Maureen doesn’t. A cost-cutting measure. Maureen O’Hara, the Hollywood legend, doesn’t have a trailer. You have to understand, in La-La-Land perks like Winnebagos are calculated to the inch, as a status symbol. The bigger the trailer, the bigger the star. Candy went ballistic, moved out of his trailer and moved her in. The asshole producers then somehow found the money to rent a trailer for John, knowing they’d be shunned forever in Hollywood if their star was sharing a dressing room with the extras. What a bunch of maroons, and what a classy thing for John Candy to do … you might say it was the only decent thing to do, and I’d agree, but you notice the producers didn’t do it, and you’d be surprised how often common decency seems like odd behavior in the movie biz.

We try to watch this movie every Thanksgiving, because not only is it riotously funny but it has a warm heart. You probably know the story, how John and Steve Martin are thrown together in a travel nightmare where everything that can go wrong does go wrong … and then a dozens things more go wrong. Uptight Steve Martin is the perfect foil for big, sloppy, goofy, frequently obnoxious John Candy, and the genius of his portrayal is that Del Griffith is your worst nightmare, in many ways, he has every annoying mannerism imaginable, he talks too much, doesn’t seem to have a clue that he might be annoying … and yet you quickly grow to like him. It takes Steve a little longer—we have to keep the comic tension up—but eventually he learns a lot from this big what-you-see-is-what-you-get goof.

We sure do miss John Candy.

Somebody else we miss is John Hughes. What the hell happened to him? In the ‘80s he pretty much invented the Brat Pack, with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, then did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which I love. But after P,T&A he vanished as a director. He’s been writing all this time (and during his heyday he wrote National Lampoon’s Vacation, and other good ones), and some of his movies were big hits, like Home Alone (vastly overrated, in my book), but he did those awful Beethoven movies, and Dennis the Menace, and Flubber. Real crap. In fact, this movie was just about the last thing of lasting quality he penned. What’s the deal? In it for the money? Too bad. You can make money and make good comedies, if you try, as he proved in the ‘80s. (12/3: I just learned that John Hughes died suddenly only a few months ago, in August, 2009.)