Several years ago, I was browsing the trivia section for Planes, Trains & Automobiles on IMDB.com when I came across an unconfirmed piece of trivia that alleged that an original cut of the film had clocked in at over three and a half hours. I was stunned. Could it be possible that there existed an additional two hours of footage of my favorite film? I set out to do some research. Over the years, I scoured numerous sources including; multiple versions of the script, interview pieces with cast and crew, theatrical trailers, promotional images, even first hand accounts of those who seemed to back up the claim: Yes, an extended cut of the film existed and it was probably sitting in a Paramount vault.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles, released in 1987, was writer/director John Hughes' first attempt at making a more adult-oriented comedy, after his success in the teen film genre. Based on his own travel experiences, the script was allegedly written in under a week. Although Hughes originally did not plan to direct the film, he signed on once Steve Martin agreed to star in the project. Frequent Hughes collaborator John Candy was set to star opposite Martin.
With a shooting script of 145 pages (nearly double the length of the industry standard for this type of comedy), the crew hit the road to film their road-trip comedy on location. Along the way, Hughes and the film's leads continued to improvise and add new sequences to an already elongated script. The result: a rough cut that came in at over 3 hours, 40 minutes long. Naturally, Hughes and the film's editor, Paul Hirsh then cut the film down to just over two hours. The studio, however, wanted more to be cut. So Hughes and Hirsch went into overtime and trimmed out everything that they possibly could to make the movie still make sense, before submitting a final cut that ran 1 hour and 33 minutes with credits.
While the film has rightfully earned its status as a Thanksgiving classic, I always wondered what the missing material could possibly contain. Then, in 2016, I received a copy of the shooting script. Its pages were filled with not only incredibly funny gags and jokes, but also entire subplots and characters that are missing from the film. Additionally, a more flushed out ending revealed an even deeper side to Candy's Del Griffith, as well as a better understanding of Neal Page's relationship with his wife. From there I began to research exactly what was filmed and later cut from this amazing film.
An early theatrical trailer (linked above) highlighted missing shots during the first motel sequence of the film. Additional promotional images also revealed several sequences scripted, but not present in the final cut:
Images owned by Paramount Pictures.
The only deleted scene to survive in full, features Del & Neal having dinner on their flight. This scene was used in cable edits of the movie for many years and was the only deleted scene present on the "Special Edition" Blu-Ray/DVD of the film:
As I continued watching the film, sometimes multiple times a year, I began to notice all the remnants of the precise cuts made to secure a shorter runtime. It was only then that I realized just how fast the movie moves. Scenes rarely run longer than a few minutes, with little breathing room between location changes. While this ultimately does not affect the film negatively, it definitely made me yearn to see this longer cut, which allowed a little more breathing room between scenes. I decided to put my findings into a video short to highlight only some of what is missing. I wanted to create awareness around this lost cut in the hopes that the right parties can get involved and restore the missing material. Imagine my surprise when Steve Martin himself tweeted out a link to my video, giving some credit to my findings.
So where do we go from here?
Do I expect a full HD transfer of the three and a half hour cut to come out of this? No. Even if it did survive intact, this cut likely would not be scored and edited in a way that is presentable to an audience. That being said, the two hour cut likely has survived and exists fully scored and edited in the way that it was screened for test audiences, and in the age of streaming, it could be restored and made available.
So my proposal is this:
Paramount, please restore and release any additional footage that is attainable. After 33 years, the fact that only a single deleted scene has been made available is just very disappointing. Please release some of this original cut. The footage doesn't even have to be edited with the completed film, us fans would just enjoy getting to see some of it, even out of context. If the project doesn't appeal to you, I humbly request to turn the original footage over to the teams at third party film restoration groups such as Criterion or Shout Factory.
Lastly, for the fans of this film. Take to social media. Use the hashtag #ReleaseTheHughesCut to keep the conversation going and let the powers that be know we are interested in seeing John Hughes' original vision for this film realized.