NEW YORK, NY – Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means NO ONE will be reading this column today, which is just a tad fewer than usual. So, if you came here looking for sports… tough darts. I’m gonna instead talk about what I consider the two best movies set on or around Thanksgiving: Trading Places and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. They’re both great, but which one is better? Let’s get to it!
Stars. In one corner we have two heavy-hitting SNL alums in Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd playing a fast-talking street hustler and an uptight commodities broker. In the other corner we have comic legends John Candy and Steve Martin as a overly-chatty shower curtain ring salesman and an uptight advertising executive. They’re all just too damn good. Edge: Even.
Signature Scene. Lots of choices here but this one comes down to Candy and Martin waking up in bed together snuggling capped off by the “Those aren’t pillows!” line and Aykroyd showing up at the Duke & Duke Christmas party in an attempt to frame Valentine and get his job back. Aykroyd’s Winthorpe, getting bombed in that dingy Santa suit and stumbling off to eat salmon on the bus through his filthy beard is just way too good. Edge: Trading Places.
Thanksgiving Authenticity. While Trading Places fires off the classic line, “It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving,” when Valentine is in jail, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is top-to-bottom (the travel headaches, the family, the meal) a Thanksgiving movie. Edge: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Unexpected Bonus. Jamie Lee Curtis going topless, and looking great doing so vs. Steve Martin dropping multiple F-bombs at the Rental Car desk. Sorry, Steve. Edge: Trading Places.
Supporting Cast. This one isn’t really fair, because Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is really a two-person movie while Trading Places has a bunch of strong supporting players, especially Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy as Mortimer and Randolph Duke. We don’t care about being fair. Edge: Trading Places.
Realism. Steve Martin racing Kevin Bacon down a New York City street for a rush hour cab is far more realistic than borderline homeless Billy Ray Valentine (Capricorn!) kicking a young, willing, naked woman out of his bed in the middle of his party. Edge: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
One Funny Line. Candy’s Del Griffith telling Martin’s Neal Page, “Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour,” is classic, as is his follow-up to Martin’s “You know what would make me happy?” when Del retorts, “Another couple of balls and an extra set of fingers?” The moment that kills me in Trading Places is Randolph Duke giving a $5 Christmas bonus to their server, Ezra, and Mortimer making sure he knows “Half of it is from me.” Edge: Trading Places.
Ending. All of this is, of course, very subjective. There’s no telling what resonates with what person. As far as the endings of these movies go, you’ve got a nice bittersweet finale in Planes, Trains, as Neal finds Del and brings him home for Thanksgiving dinner. In Trading Places, Winthorpe and Valentine bankrupt the Dukes and end up on a tropical island with Jamie Lee and Coleman the Butler, played by Denholm Elliott. The latter just seems like not a whole lot of thought went into it. Edge: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Overall. I have watched both of these movies more times than I care to remember, and I STILL like them. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Trading Places, but Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remains the quintessential Thanksgiving movie for me.
Come back here tomorrow at your peril. Does anyone expect that turkey DJ Eberle to post when there’s food on the table?