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John Hughes’ Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a comedy classic that packs the emotional punch that only the creator behind The Breakfast Club and Home Alone could mix into a movie with so many laughs. As Steve Martin’s Neal slowly gets to know the lovable, yet taxing Del, played by the late John Candy, the buddy comedy antics make way for a third act reveal that adds an entirely new texture to the film that played out before. The result is an ending that fans have always loved, and a scene that still makes Martin emotional when he encounters it.
In the book Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever, author Nick de Semlyen recounted the story of how Steve Martin enjoyed his time working with John Candy as they made comedy history. Not only were the two famous for getting along and cracking up between takes (via Express), a particularly effective ad-lib from the late comedian saw Planes, Trains, and Automobiles taking an even sadder context. As Candy’s Del comes clean about how he has no home, and the wife he’d been talking about the whole film had been dead for eight years prior, a memorable twist led to an even heartwarming ending, as well as the following long lasting effect on Steve Martin:
Martin would still shed a tear remembering the heartfelt confession.
Decades after the film’s initial release, the simple admission of Del’s wife being dead grounds Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as one of John Hughes’ most humane comedies. It also marked a turning point in the legendary writer/director’s career, as it was a bold move into something a little more grown up that the teen comedies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that helped put him on the map as a directorial talent. Steve Martin and John Candy would play a huge part in those efforts, as their chemistry turned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles into a perennial classic, and one of the only Thanksgiving-themed movies in existence.
It’s easy to see why the ending to the 1987 dramedy would bring a tear to anyone’s eye. Starting with a heartfelt good by between Del and Neal, Steve Martin’s initially cranky executive boards a train and starts to head home. But as he pieces together the events of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’s entire puzzle, he realized that John Candy’s Del is hiding something. Which leads to the big reveal, which you can watch for yourself below.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles has plenty of other moments and memes that fans can recall in a heartbeat, whether it be that awkward moment where Steve Martin and John Candy wake up in the same bed, or the big, profanity-fueled rant that Martin goes on to get a rental car. But among the laughs that the movie contains, there’s that emotional core that pulls together all of the antics into one, beautiful package. Let’s hope that the recently-announced Will Smith/Kevin Hart remake finds a way to make this skillful twist into an enriching moment of its own.