Movie Morsel: Throw Momma From the Train
People always ask me what my favorite film comedy is. I always reply, “Do you mean classic comedy or contemporary comedy?” If they answer, “classic”, I always reply with My Man Godfrey, one of the most sparkling, intellectual, and downright downright wacky film comedies of early Hollywood (it was made in 1936). If their answer is “contemporary”, I immediately announce Throw Momma From the Train as my choice. For the same reasons that I love My Man Godfrey, I marvel at the humor, timing, and insanity that just makes Throw Momma From the Train special. It allows itself to be entirely human and entirely wacko at the same time. It gets at the heart of who we are as people and how we let our egos control who we are. That’s funny stuff. We need to laugh at ourselves.
Throw Momma From the Train, released in 1987, features a hysterical screenplay by Stu Silver, and bravura performances by Billy Crystal and Danny Devito, each at the top of their comedic game. Crystal plays Larry, an author whose ex-wife Maragret has stolen his novel and passed it off as her own. She has become a celebrity while Larry makes ends meet as a creative writing professor at a local community college. His class is menagerie of lunatics, each fancying themselves as authors-to-be, but none having any talent. Perhaps worst of all is Owen (Devito), a schlub who is trying to write a murder mystery, but who keeps failing to understand the basics of writing. He writes a “murder mystery with two characters, one of which is dead on page two”. Owen lives with his mother, a true nightmare of a woman who criticizes her son, hits him, screams at him, and puts him through the most-ridiculous situations of guilt. She discourages his writing and tells him he will never amount to anything. When Larry brutally critiques Owen’s story, Owen becomes obsessed and stalks Larry for advice. Larry suggests Owen see a Hitchcock film to help him better understand how to write his story. Owen sees Strangers On a Train, a story where two strangers both have someone they want killed and decide to swap murders. Owen decides that this is a hint from Larry that they swap murders: Owen kill Larry’s ex-wife, Larry kill Owen’s mother. When Margaret disappears in an ocean accident, Owen takes credit for her murder and insists that Larry uphold his half of the bargain, blackmailing him that he will go to the cops and name Larry as the murderer if he doesn’t kill his mother. Larry has no choice but try to take her out, but each attempt is a failed one when the battle axe refuses to die. I will stop there in case you haven’t seen the movie. Suffice it to say, the final moments of the film are about as hilarious as a comedy can be. Give Throw Momma From the Train a chance if you just want to have a good, hearty laugh. It will not fail you.
Fun Fact: Anne Ramsey was nominated for an Oscar for her unforgettable performance as Owen’s mother. She died about a year after the film was released.