Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Throw Mamma From the Train


EXTRA BONUS HITCHCOCK MATERIAL: This movie was inspired by Strangers on a Train, and even uses some footage form it to explain what’s going to happen:

The night was … humid. The night was … moist. The night was …….. Billy Crystal is a writer who has written one book that his ex-wife stole from him and it became a best-seller. Now he’s blocked from the very first line of his new novel, and it’s been going on for years. He hates his ex. To make ends meet, he’s teaching a class of the absolute worst wannabe writers in the world, none of whom know they suck. Danny DeVito is one of them, a poor little nerd who is harmless … almost. His momma is a nightmare, scarier than Hannibal Lector, and brilliantly played by Anne Ramsey (who got an Oscar nomination). He wants to kill his momma. Billy makes the mistake of advising him to see a Hitchcock film if he wants ideas on how to kill without being caught. He sees Strangers on a Train (at the lovely old Vista Theater at the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards), and immediately knows just what to do. Swap murders, just like in the movie. So he goes to Hawaii to kill Billy’s ex, and when he comes back he expects Billy to kill Momma.

It’s all hilarious, though I could have wished for a darker ending. I suppose the sweet ending they went for was okay, but given Danny DeVito’s penchant for really dark humor (see The War of the Roses) I think he could have found a way where the murders do get committed. But there are scenes that just made me hysterical with laughter. Best one of all: After spending most of the movie explaining why he will not kill Momma, the three of them are together in a train cabin. Danny mentions something about how Billy is blocked on that line. “The night was …” And Billy explains, as if to a dunce, how a writer searches for the perfect word. And she instantly says, “The night was sultry.” She leaves, he gets up to follow her, and Danny asks where he’s going. “I’m gonna kill the bitch.” And who could blame him?

Can’t end this without mentioning a scene near the end. Billy is in the hospital after falling off a train. In the bed next to him, in the part of “Old Man,” as it says in the credits, is my old friend Peter Brocco. It’s a nice little part for Peter, who is so fed up with Billy’s bitching about his ex-wife that he gets up to ask for a new room. Peter was nearly blind by then, but you couldn’t tell it. He had bit parts in hundreds and hundreds of movies and TV series, but only appeared two more times after this. I miss you, Peter.