8 Things You Didn't Know About Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It’s time for the great American migration, that time of year when people traverse the highways and airways to visit family for the holidays. Or it would be, if this was a normal year -- but this is 2020. Since everything else this year has been turned on its head, why would the holidays be any different?

While you quarantine at home to keep you and your loved ones safe, leave Thanksgiving travel to the “experts” this year. After all, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin and John Candy have enough experience with Thanksgiving travel shenanigans for the rest of us.

Below are eight things you may not have known about Planes, Trains and Automobiles:

1. The Film Was Inspired by a True Story

Writer and director John Hughes’ films undoubtedly follow the popular adage of the writer’s world to “write what you know.” From the whacky antics of family drama in the National Lampoon movies, to the humanization and humor of teenagers in his “Brat Pack” films, Hughes had a gift for translating his life experiences and bringing them to life on screen. So it should come as little surprise that Planes, Trains and Automobiles would also be based on real events. Before he became a beloved screenwriter and director, Hughes was an ad man, working as a copywriter in Chicago (a pretty obvious parallel to Neal’s marketing presentation). As a copywriter, he had to make a presentation in New York City at 11AM on a Wednesday, with plans to head back home to Chicago on a 5PM flight. But the Windy City stayed true to its name, and winter storms cancelled his flight, forcing him to find a last-minute hotel in the city. He eventually found another flight, which was rerouted to Iowa, and then diverted to Denver when Des Moines was also snowed in. Hughes was then routed to Phoenix before finally making it back home to Chicago...on the following Monday. His personal misadventure helped inspire Neal Page’s unfortunate holiday travel plans, and apparently the spark of inspiration burned so brightly that Hughes completed the screenplay in just three days.

2. Better Call Saul’s Michael McKean Makes a Brief Appearance

AMC Fans will know Emmy-Nominated actor Michael McKean as Jimmy McGill’s ill-fated brother, Chuck, on Better Call Saul. In Planes, Trains and Automobiles, McKean only graces the screen for about 90 seconds, as the State Trooper who pulls over Neal and Del for going 78 miles per hour in their burned out husk of a car. Despite only being onscreen for a short time, McKean still scored fourth billing on the film. But McKean is hardly the only famous face to feature in the film. Who can forget the early scene of Neal racing Kevin Bacon through the streets of New York for a taxi? And that’s not the last we see of the Footloose star in the film. When Neal calls his wife from the seedy motel to explain he’s been delayed again, in the background, his wife is watching She’s Having a Baby, another film by John Hughes that stars Kevin Bacon.

3. The Original Cut Is Almost 4 Hours Long

Hughes’ whirlwind writing time is made all the more impressive, with the knowledge that the screenplay was over 145 pages long. Or at least it was by the time it hit Steve Martin’s desk. Martin, who was also a prolific screenwriter, thought 145 pages was a little long for a comedy. Allegedly, when he first came on to the project, Martin asked Hughes which scenes he thought would be cut from the script. Hughes was confused by the question. In fact, Hughes shot over 600,000 feet of film (which was almost twice the industry average). According to the film’s editor, Paul Hirsch, the original cut of the movie was almost four hours long.

4. Tom Hanks and John Travolta Almost Had the Leading Roles

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect pair for misadventure comedy than Steve Martin and John Candy, but the leading roles actually almost went to other Hollywood A-Listers. John Hughes originally wanted high strung marketing executive Neal Page to be played by Tom Hanks, with bumbling shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith being played by John Travolta. However, Hanks was busy working on Big, and the production company didn’t want to give the role to Travolta, whose star had fallen after appearing in a series of movie flops. Ghostbusters’ Rick Moranis was also considered for Neal, and John Goodman was also considered for Del (the two later starred together in The Flinstones). Even John Hughes almost didn’t direct the movie. Originally, Hughes had passed the script off to friend and frequent collaborator Howard Deutsch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) to direct the movie. But when Steve Martin signed on to the film, Hughes decided to direct the movie himself, while Deutsch directed Hughes’ script The Great Outdoors.

5. Dylan Baker Disgusted Steve Martin on Set

Emmy-Award winning actor Dylan Baker stars in Planes, Trains and Automobiles as Owen, the sordid and scary son of the motel manager that Neal and Del first stay at in Wichita. Baker created the Owen character himself, improvising the snorts, lougie hacks, and twisted expressions. Lulie Newcomb, who played his silent wife (the one who “birthed her baby sideways and didn’t cry,”) reportedly said it was difficult to keep a straight face while filming together. But despite Baker’s antics, Hughes still wasn’t satisfied with the initial reactions he was getting from Martin and Candy during Owen’s introduction scene. Hughes privately told Baker to spit in his hand before shaking hands with Martin -- so when Neal’s face contorts with disgust, that’s Steve Martin’s genuine reaction.

6. Elton John Wrote a Song for the Movie

John Hughes movies are known for having a memorable theme song, like The Breakfast Club’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” and National Lampoon’s “Holiday Road.” During the production of the movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles was going to follow suit in a big way, with a specially written and produced song by Elton John. According to lyricist Gary Osbourne, who was also brought onto the movie to compose the song with Elton John, the pair had very nearly finalized the song before “contractual technicalities” stopped the potential hit in its tracks. Just two days before Elton John was supposed to record the theme song, he and his team pulled out of the film. It turns out, Paramount wanted to own the master of the Rocketman’s song, which was something John’s own contract couldn’t allow. Instead, Paramount decided to use Paul Young’s “Everytime You Go Away” -- but corporate bureaucracy struck again, when Young’s record company, Columbia Records, wouldn’t permit its usage in the film... so another cover of the song was produced. Young himself was disappointed by this, since he was apparently a big fan of both Steve Martin and John Candy.

7. The Sets Might Look Familiar

When you’ve got a great location, why use it only once? At the end of the movie, Neal finally arrives back to suburban Chicago to his beautiful home and beautiful family. Does the house look vaguely familiar? While it isn’t the exact house, Neal’s house is in the same neighborhood as the one used in John Hughes’s 1990 film, Home Alone, which he wrote and produced. And while this one isn’t part of the “John Hughes Cinematic Universe,” the rural train station where Neal and Del buy tickets for their smoky train ride is the same one featured in The Natural. In the movie, Neal and Del are in Kansas, but the real station is actually in South Dayton, New York.

8. Del Griffith and John Bender (The Breakfast Club) are Neighbors

Speaking of the “John Hughes Cinematic Universe,” John Hughes himself has said that he considers a number of films as existing in the same continuity timeline, known affectionately among fans as “The Shermerverse.” In 1999, Hughes said, “When I started making movies, I thought I would just invent a town where everything happened. Everybody, in all of my movies, is from Shermer, Illinois. Del Griffith from Planes, Trains and Automobiles lives two doors down from John Bender. Ferris Bueller knew Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles.” Shermer, Illinois is a fictitious suburb of Chicago based on Hughes’s own hometown of Northbrook, Illinois. Various Northbrook locations like the local high school and the mall are used in a number of Hughes’ movies.

From now through Christmas Day, AMC is offering a full feast of holiday fare, with a slate of 835 hours of holiday classic films and family favorites airing all day, every day on AMC through December 25th. This year, AMC+, the premium streaming bundle, will also feature select holiday film titles and exclusive specials beginning today and rolling out through December.

AMC will be the exclusive home to such holiday favorites as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, Love Actually, Four Christmases, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Ella Enchanted, ‘Frosty’s Winter Wonderland,  Twas the Night Before Christmas, Jack Frost, and Legend of Frosty the Snowman, among many others. A majority of titles will also be available On Demand on AMC.com and the AMC app.

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