Soundtrack Saturday: “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

Written by Film, Soundtrack Saturday

Before Zach Galifianakis was Between Two Ferns John Candy was “between two pillows.” Kelly Stitzel explores the soundtrack to the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

I hope you all enjoyed last month’s Halloween-themed posts. If you were around last year during the holiday season, you’ll recall that I wrote about three excellent Thanksgiving-themed films in November and I plan to do so again this year. I have to say, though, that I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep this up next year — there aren’t very many Thanksgiving-themed movies with out-of-print soundtracks. Hell, there aren’t very many Thanksgiving-themed movies period.

If you’ve read this column at all, you’re probably aware that I have a profound love of John Hughes and his films. But I have to admit that of all of Hughes’s movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) is one I never really got into that much. I remember watching it a lot with my family when it would come on cable and I remember thinking parts of it were pretty funny at the time, but it’s not a film I’ve had a desire to watch since I was a kid. In fact, I think the last time I saw it before writing this column, I was in junior high. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me because this movie is a fucking riot.

I think part of the reason that I didn’t fully enjoy this movie until now is that, as a child who had never traveled more than 40 miles from her house, I couldn’t really identify with the characters or the situation they were in. I picked up on what was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t really appreciate the humor. But as an adult who has done a lot of traveling, and who has been involved in many unfortunate travel mishaps, I now think this is one of the funniest movies ever made. And I cannot believe it took me this long to realize that.

If you’ve never seen the movie, it follows the adventures of ad man Neal Page (Steve Martin) — who, incidentally, wears a Don Draper hat throughout the film —  as he tries to make it home to Chicago for Thanksgiving after being on a business trip in in New York City. Unfortunately for him, his travels are marred from the beginning after he encounters shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy), with whom he reluctantly ends up spending most of his journey.

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The film features incredibly hilarious dialogue written by Hughes (who also directed the film) and brilliant performances from Martin and Candy, who have the most amazing comedic chemistry you’ll ever witness on-screen. The cast also includes some Hughes regulars such as the wonderful Edie McClurg, who is fantastic in this, my favorite scene, which, incidentally, got the film its “R” rating due to the fact that the word “fucking” is said 18 times in a minute:

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a huge financial success, making more than $150 million on a $15 million budget. It was one of Candy’s most successful films and I’ve read that it is Martin’s favorite film that he’s done. Hughes allegedly shot over 600,00 feet of film and an out-of-sequence three-hour version of the movie exists somewhere in the Paramount vault. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 2012, we see that three-hour version released on Blu-Ray and DVD for the film’s 25th anniversary.

With country and rock, as well as the pop and new wave that is most commonly associated with Hughes’s films, the soundtrack to Planes, Trains and Automobiles is quintessentially Hughes. Several artists whose music has appeared in other Hughes movies, such as Yello, The Dream Academy and Blue Room, also show up here and the score is composed by frequent Hughes collaborator Ira Newborn.

As with every Hughes movie, the music is carefully chosen for each scene and every song works perfectly. Some of my favorites include Emmylou Harris’s cover of the country classic “Back in Baby’s Arms,” used during the infamous “Those aren’t pillows!” scene. I also love the cover of “Every Time You Go Away” performed by Blue Room that appears at the end of the movie. Unfortunately, that version has never been released, so I don’t have an MP3 for you.

Another notable track is “Continental Trailways Blues,” performed by Steve Earle & the Dukes, which was composed for the movie but, strangely, didn’t make it onto the official soundtrack album, which is long out-of-print. Other songs that didn’t make the official release include Yello’s “Lost Again” and Ray Charles’s “Mess Around.” I managed to find all of them, including a YouTube clip of the Blue Room track, for your enjoyment. Listen as you wait in line to get your fucking rental car.

E.T.A. featuring Steve Martin & John Candy – I Can’t Take Anything (Love Theme from Planes, Trains and Automobiles)
Westworld – Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo
Balaam & the Angel – I’ll Show You Something Special
Book of Love – Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)
The Dream Academy – Power to Believe
Steve Earle & the Dukes – Six Days on the Road
Dave Edmunds – Gonna Move
Emmylou Harris – Back in Baby’s Arms
Silicon Teens – Red River Rock
Stars of Heaven – Wheels
Ray Charles – Mess Around
Yello – Lost Again
Steve Earle & the Dukes – Continental Trailways Blues

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