Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Creative writing on a train

TCM is airing Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train at 10:00 PM ET this evening. If you don't know the story, a tennis player (Farley Granger) with an estranged wife meets a wealthy young man (Robert Walker) with an overbearing father on a train trip. Each would like to get out from under the relationship, and Walker, who turns out to be deranged, comes up with the idea that each of them can murder the other person's unwanted party, since nobody knows the two have met. It's pretty good Hitchcock stuff, but unfortunately, it's ripe for parody.

One of the great homages to Strangers on a Train, however, is the 1987 comedy Throw Momma From the Train. Billy Crystal stars as a creative writing teacher who's got writers' block, and is depressed over the fact that his ex-wife has just written a best-selling novel. One of his students, played by Danny DeVito, lives with his overbearing mother. One day, Crystal gives DeVito the writing advice to see an Alfred Hitchcock movie, on the grounds that it will help with coming up with coherent plots and character motivations. Unfortunately, DeVito gets the wrong idea, and thinks that Crystal wants him to kill the ex-wife, while Crystal would then kill DeVito's mother.

The humor in all this is that the mother (Anne Ramsey) is truly the mother from hell. It's obvious from the very beginning why DeVito wants her dead, and frankly, after spending a few minutes with her, it's easy to see why anybody would want her dead. However, she's tough as nails, and no matter what anybody tries to do, there's no way they're going to be able to bump her off.... Ramsey received an Oscar nomination for her role, and she's the highlight of the movie

Throw Momma From the Train is certainly not a movie for everybody. It's full of adult situations, so right off the bat, it's not for the kids. It's also a very dark comedy, and there are a lot of people who may find the movie too cynical. For the rest of us, however, it's a hilariously warped view of life. Throw Momma From the Train is available on DVD, which is a good thing, since it doesn't seem to be scheduled on any cable channel in the near future.

No comments: