Saturday, November 24, 2012

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ on Holiday-Travel Perils)

Neal (played by Steve Martin): “Sir?... Sir?... Sir?” [runs to man] "Excuse me. I know this is your cab, but I'm desperately late for a plane, and I was wondering if I could appeal to your good nature and ask you to let me have it.”

New York Lawyer (played by Nicholas Wyman): “I don't have a good nature. Excuse me. Cabbie, come on.”

Neal: “I'll offer you 10 dollars for it.”

New York Lawyer: [scoffs] “Nuh!”

Neal: “Okay, 20! I'll give you 20 dollars.”

New York Lawyer: “I'll take 50.”

Neal: [pauses, then begins to take money out] “All right.”

New York Lawyer: “Anyone who'd pay 50 dollars for a cab, would certainly pay 75.”

Neal: “Not necessarily...” [reluctantly agreeing]. “All right. $75. You're a thief!”

New York Lawyer: “Close, I'm an attorney.”

Neal: “Have a happy holiday.”

New York Lawyer: “This'll help!”— Planes,Trains and Automobiles (1987), written and directed by John Hughes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles premiered a quarter-century ago tomorrow, but it seems fitting to run this quote today, to place it more squarely in the Thanksgiving holiday—which, after all, is when this often hilarious—and unexpectedly tender-hearted—film takes place. In fact, as indicated in this article by Wade Tatangelo of the Bradenton Herald, it has become "the Greatest Thanksgiving film."

In a way, the scene quoted here epitomizes the dilemma faced by Neal (Steve Martin, exasperated to the point of being uncharacteristically unsympathetic here). Neal's notion of a “good nature” depends, fatally, on appearances. He assumes that the tastefully dressed man waiting for a cab has a good nature. This not only turns out to be incorrect, but the lawyer deprives Neal of cash that could be used later in getting home.

When he meets someone with a good nature—the boorish shower-ring salesman, Del (played by the marvelous John Candy)—the experience is wildly out of his comfort zone and ability to control. Del might tell one awful joke after another, but he has an ability to “go with the flow” utterly beyond Neal. Moreover, he has unexpected reservoirs of sorrow that uptight businessman Neal can’t begin to understand.

On the bus coming back from New York in the last few weeks, amid the kind of aggravating travel conditions this film captures so expertly, a passenger told another commuter—evidently a stranger--at the end of a long conversation, that such awful situations provided opportunities for people to open up to each other unexpectedly in ways not normally possible. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a comedy (with serious overtones) about just such a scenarios. It allows us to appreciate the talents of two talented “Johns” taken from us far before we could wish—John Candy (dead from a heart attack in 1994, at age 43) and screenwriter-director-producer John Hughes (dead at age 59 three years ago).

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