“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” may be an unlikely choice for a 4K transfer, but the new Blu-ray celebrating the 35th anniversary of Paramount’s John Hughes comedy classic is a must-have for one very good reason: it contains 75 minutes of never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes.
For John Hughes obsessives and aficionados of “planes, trains and cars,” this is like uncovering a hidden treasure trove of precious gems and a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of Hughes, one of Hollywood’s most elusive geniuses. (Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack in 2009 while walking in New York. He was only 59.) And TheWrap spoke to editing legend Paul Hirsch all about this new footage — and the headaches that put this movie together.
As a self-employed filmmaker, Hirsch was responsible for editing all-time classics such as “Star Wars,” “Footloose,” and “Mission: Impossible” (also “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), with work spanning genres and styles from filmmaking.
Wrestling “planes, trains and cars” to the ground was a mammoth task; Hirsch describes the production and post-production process in unnerving detail in his insightful, incredibly entertaining memoir “A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away.”
The film is a relatively straightforward comedy about a square advertising executive (played by Steve Martin) and a slovenly door-to-door salesman (John Candy) who make an uneasy pact in an attempt to get home for the holidays. But on the occasion of the resurrection of these scenes, TheWrap reached out to talk about the process of working on the film and making it the holiday classic it is today.
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Hirsch recalls that a week after principal photography for “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” ended in early July, Hughes was offered a part. Shooting went wildly over schedule and over budget, complicated by a threatened Directors Guild strike (which ultimately fell through) and locations that never cooperated. Bill Brown, an associate producer and second unit director, said in a recent Vanity Fair retrospective: “What I used to say about John was he’d write a really tight script, and then we’d work our way into a big sloppy sketch of a movie. And then he’d work his way back to a wonderfully tight movie. The job of making that “wonderfully tight film” fell to Paul Hirsch and a small team of editors, who worked tirelessly to get it into shape. Each kind of shape.
At the beginning of July, the film ran for three hours and 45 minutes.
“It was on 24 reels. We watched 12 reels, had lunch, came back and watched the next 12 reels. He turns to me and says, “It’s too long.” I said yes.’ And then he went on vacation,” Hirsch recalled.
The studio, as Hirsch recalled, “freaked out,” because Hughes was gone and they wanted him in theaters that same Thanksgiving, which means they should lock the photo by the end of September. Still, Hughes brought along a VHS tape of the super-long version (this is where Hirsch imagines the footage for the new home video release came from).
“Obviously he had thought about it because when he came back, we sat down and he started saying, ‘Okay, let’s go through the reels. Lose this, lose this, lose this,’ and I’ll just pull it out of the movie,” Hirsch said. By the time they finished, they had cut the film’s running time to two and a half hours. “We just cut 1/3 of the film,” Hirsch said, still amazed. “They had shot for 85 days. I said, “John, you know we just cut 20 days of shooting.” And he just shrugged.”
One of the best bits of the newly-surfaced footage is a moment where Candy and Martin find themselves in an airport waiting area. After asking Martin if he wants something to eat (a joke that only works because it takes way too long), we see Candy stuffing a hot dog in his mouth while smoking a cigarette. As he shoves the dog into his mouth, he exhales the smoke from his nostrils, over the rest of the chili dog. It’s insane and hilarious.
“Love that shot,” Hirsch said. “I thought I was going to die when I saw that. And they took it out because the women in the audience thought it was too rude. Hirsch said he heard from studio executives that the scores improved dramatically after they removed the bit. Hirsch still misses it. “I thought it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” said Hirsch.
Yet he admits there is some truth to what William Shakespeare once said: “Briefness is the soul of humour.” “It’s like a meal. As good as the food is, at some point you get tired of it,” Hirsch said. He also pointed to the Marx Brothers films, now seen as the pinnacle of comedy, and each clocking in at “75/80 minutes.”
Hirsch can’t locate it Why there was so much footage because he wasn’t on location with the production, but he wrestled as intended as a simple sequence of Candy and Martin’s characters in a cheap motel that grew into a 25-minute extravaganza. “It’s either they were improvising or John stayed up late at night writing pages and handing them out in the morning.” I don’t really know,” Hirsch said. “He could write as fast as he could type. He wrote the first 60 pages of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ in one night.”
The process was complicated by the fact that Hughes essentially broke up with Hirsch as they all struggled to finish the film. “I got on well with John until I stopped,” Hirsch said. He’d seen the pattern play out with others around him—Hughes would heap exaggerated compliments at them, tell them he never wanted to work with anyone else, and then drop them out of the blue. Several actors, including James Spader and Molly Ringwald, have spoken of similar experiences.
“I didn’t feel good about it for a long time,” Hirsch said. Forced to finish work on the project with the filmmaker no longer speaking to him, requests started pouring in through producer Bill Brown. And Hirsch would send information back to Hughes through Brown. Hirsch called the experience “bruising” and shared something Paul Schrader told him in 1974 (Hirsch also edited the Schrader-penned “Obsession”): “You don’t come to Hollywood to make friends.”
When “Plains, Trains and Automobiles” finally opened on November 25, 1987, they hoped it would at least win the weekend box office. “We lost to ‘Three Men and a Baby,'” Hirsch recalled. “We were very disappointed.” But Hirsch had a bigger ambition. One that eventually came true: “I think we all hoped it would become a perennial that would be played every year on Thanksgiving. And what we hoped for happened. It has become a beloved perennial, Thanksgiving favorite.
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Incredibly, Hirsch stayed in Hughes’ orbit. He was attached to two Hughes scripts that never saw the light of day: “The Nanny,” which would star Marianne Sägebrecht from “Baghdad Café” (which Hirsch said was about “spoiled children whose parents are very wealthy, and they go on vacation and leave the kids in the care of this German nanny who looks like a prison camp officer”) and “Larry’s Late for Living”, which sounds a bit like the very—Hughe’s script about a guy just having trouble getting to work for a meeting, which would have featured Bill Camp.
Hirsch was also set to direct ‘Dutch’, which eventually got made (and shares a Thanksgiving setting with ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’), but was replaced by Peter Faiman, an Australian filmmaker and an ally of Rupert Murdoch (Murdoch’s Fox released “Dutch.” After shooting, Hughes called Hirsch and begged him to help: “John called me and said, ‘Listen, I’d feel much better if you cut ‘Dutch’. I don’t really trust this guy At the time, Hirsch was working for Fox as a “repairman” (“terrible movies turn into bad movies”) and the experience on “Dutch” served in part as something of a wake-up call. Hirsch’s ambitions were no longer a priority “I decided I’d rather work steadily than sit around and wait for someone to give me a chance,” Hirsch said.He then collaborated again with Brian De Palma on 1992’s ‘Raising Cain’ and a few years later on a little movie called ‘Mission: Impos sible’.
And as stunning as these deleted scenes from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” are, Hirsch points to a wealth of additional Hughes-related material yet to be discovered. Bill Brown told Hirsch a story about how he entered Hughes’ office outside of Chicago, either after his memorial service or the memorial of his surviving wife Nancy Hughes, who died in 2019. path between the posts. There were so many scripts piled on the floor,” Hirsch said.
There was one deleted scene that will never see the light of day, at least according to Hirsch. (It’s certainly not on the new disc.) “I’m not going to give you the context,” Hirsch said. He said the scene takes place in a restaurant. “And there’s a shot of everyone in the restaurant pantomiming and putting on a rubber glove,” Hirsch said. When I asked for more – something, really – Hirsch refused. “I’m pretty sure he’s not going back in,” Hirsch said timidly.
Though the return of these deleted scenes, long thought lost in the sands of time, shows us that anything can happen.
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is currently available for purchase at 4K with these new deleted scenes on their own separate bonus disc.
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