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Why Planes, Trains and Automobiles is – and isn’t – the perfect Christmas movie


By the late Eighties, John Hughes was – as described by his long-time producing pal Tom Jacobson – a “powerhouse” of the movie business. The master of the teen movie – including The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – the writer/director/producer was a modern Hollywood auteur.

He had a reputation for being difficult and bullish, and was known for dropping collaborators from his inner circle without warning. “John was mercurial,” says Tarquin Gotch, a music supervisor whom Hughes unceremoniously ditched – only to later bring him back to run Hughes Entertainment. “You were his best friend and suddenly you weren’t. That was the nature of the man. You can’t have the great stuff without the artistic temperament.” 

When Jeremiah S. Chechik directed National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Chechik found that Hughes’ influence made him a powerful creative ally. Chechik likens Hughes to a “900lb gorilla” who would fight his corner against Warner Bros executives. “If I had issues with the studio,” says Chechik, “or if they disagreed with my approach and said, ‘You should change that,’ I’d always say, ‘Absolutely, no problem! I’ll just check with John…’”

Teen movies had given John Hughes his influence and reputation, but his festive movies were an equally definitive part of his all-American oeuvre: full of heart-swelling sentiment, family values, and that joyous balance of laughs and tears.

All staples of the Christmas movie, of course, and all part of the success of Hughes’ festive hits: Christmas Vacation, a must-watch every December; Home Alone, as perfect as any family film ever made; and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which, while set as Thanksgiving rather than Christmas, is so wonderful that it’s probably the strongest argument we have for celebrating Thanksgiving in the UK – just so we have a decent excuse to watch it every year. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles has been re-released on a brand new 4K Blu-ray, which includes over an hour of never-before-seen material and deleted scenes – recently discovered in John Hughes’ archives.



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