Long Lost Planes, Trains And Automobiles Extended And Deleted Scenes Are Coming In A New 4K Release

Movies don't get much tighter than John Hughes' "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." It's a brisk 93 minutes crammed with chaotic incident, hilariously quotable dialogue, clever turnabouts and loads of heart. There's not an extraneous moment to be found. Though Hughes will forever be best known as the bard of 1980s high school comedy, this is unquestionably his finest hour as a writer-director. If, however, he'd indulged his every whim during the final cut, it might've been his finest three-and-a-half hours.

Hughes fans have long been aware that the first assemblage of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" ran, according to editor Paul Hirsch, a stunning 225 minutes. Comedies, particularly the banter-heavy kind turned out by Hughes in his prime, tend to sputter after the two-hour mark. At a certain point, you're all laughed out. Mix in some tragedy (e.g. "The Apartment") or a surfeit of insanely dangerous stunts (à la "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"), and maybe you can get away with it. "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" doesn't lack for gravitas, but it doesn't clobber the audience with the reveal of Del's dead wife until the final reel.

Could "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" have worked with excised footage that, in total (at 132 minutes), runs longer than the finished cut of the movie? For a long time, it seemed like we'd never know. Surely, if this cut still existed, Paramount would've issued an extended version DVD, or, at the very least, placed the scenes on a "special edition" release. So the studio's announcement of a 4K Blu-ray re-release containing 75 minutes of deleted scenes was an incredibly shocking and welcome development for a variety of reasons. Let's run through some of the major perks.

A longer, more emotionally complex story

Again, the brevity of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" is one of its greatest virtues. Hughes zips snobbish advertising exec Neal Page (Steve Martin) and slobbish traveling salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) from one predicament to another. Neal, desperate to get home for his child's Thanksgiving pageant, can't believe his horrible luck, while Del, equally eager to see his beloved wife, is strangely grateful for the prolonged companionship.

The tension of the journey hinges almost entirely on Neal's desire to not be the kind of workaholic dad who misses key, unrepeatable events in the lives of his children — and this is enough to keep us engaged. For most of the movie, we view Del as Neal does: a well-meaning annoyance whose easy-going attitude is ill-suited to the urgency of the moment. Had the film run so much as a half-hour longer, we would've eventually wondered why Neal can't simply take the L and plead force majeure to his concerned, but seemingly reasonable wife.

In the longer versions of the movie (there was also a two-hour cut), Neal's wife, Susan (Laila Robins), begins to suspect he's having an affair, and that "Del" is actually the invented name of his paramour. This is why Susan greets Del so warmly at the end of the film. I've never liked this arc for Neal or Susan because his travails are inexplicable enough for her to express genuine concern that he's withholding something from her. Also, Neal's enough of an uptight jerk at times to split our sympathies with Del. So Susan's accusations that he's carrying on with a mistress only makes her look paranoid.

Still, even if they're presented out of context, I'd like to see how these scenes played tonally.

Classic scenes with more laughs

If there's one scene that rings a tad false in the film, it's the moment Neal accuses Del of stealing $700 out of his wallet after their quarrelsome stay in a budget hotel. In Hughes' script, Del comes clean to Neal about taking money out of his wallet to pay for a pizza (which has been loaded with vegetables in lieu of the salad Neal requested). Del inadvertently stiffs the guy on the tip, so if you've ever wondered why some rando slips into their room at night to raid Neal's wallet, this is why. I don't think this excuses Neal's outburst, but it adds context. We also get to see Del leaving the beers on the vibrating bed, but that feels like a good cut. It's far funnier for Del to apologize for something egregious that we did not witness.

One sequence I would love to see expanded is Michael McKean's state trooper's traffic stop of Neal and Del in their burned-out rental car. In the longer version, McKean informs the duo that they've overshot Chicago by an hour, and are now in Wisconsin. Del also confesses to Neal that he didn't opt for insurance on the rental, which means Neal is now fully on the hook for the overt damage to the vehicle.

The momentary return of John Candy

John Candy has been gone for 28 years. He was a mere 43 years old when he died of a heart attack, and we've missed him every day since. Candy appeared in many films undeserving of his talent, but he was one of those comedic performers whose presence charged every scene with an aura of unpredictability. Even in a wholesale misfire like "Nothing But Trouble," he could snag a laugh out of the ether.

His portrayal of Del Griffith is magnificent. He turns an impossibly broad character into a wincingly believable human being. He shatters our heart with one line to Neal: "Marie's been dead for eight years." According to Martin, there's a devastating follow-up scene, before they head to Neal's house, where Candy confesses that he spends every Thanksgiving seeking companionship and/or a church for soul-salving solace. 

"Planes, Trains & Automobiles" is the acme of Candy's film career, and we get to see an hour-plus of new-to-us material decades after he left us? This is a godsend. The 4K UHD arrives on November 22, and we'll all be laughing through tears one more time at one of the funniest men to ever live.