A Faithful Recounting of the ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’ Infidelity Storyline That Was Left on the Cutting Room Floor
After about a dozen delays on his way back home, several brushes with death and having to spend all his time with a loudmouth shower curtain ring salesman, Neal Page (Steve Martin) finally arrives home on Thanksgiving. He’s greeted by his children as soon as he walks in, and a moment later, his beautiful wife Susan appears at the top of the stairs. She smiles at him, relieved he’s back home safe, while looking at Del Griffith (John Candy), the aforementioned shower curtain ring salesman, with a look of appreciation.
The ending to Planes, Trains & Automobiles is both satisfying and emotionally-charged. In fact, Susan’s look at Del is so emotional that it’s been the subject of much speculation, leaving many to believe that she somehow knew Del already. In reality, though, Susan’s look was one of relief, because, in the original cut of the film, she had an entire B-story where she thought Del was made up and that Neal was having an affair.
Hard as it may be to believe, the briskly-paced, 93-minute film was originally more than three hours long — it was only due to pressure from the studio that director John Hughes cut it down. Although much of what was cut was more funny business between Martin and Candy, the most significant change to the story was Susan’s subplot.
For years before his death in 2009, Hughes had claimed that the extended and deleted scenes were lost for good, but on November 22nd, a new Blu-ray edition will be released to commemorate the film’s 35th anniversary, which includes much of this lost footage. To give us a sense of what we were missing all these years — as well as insight into the mistaken infidelity subplot — we tracked down Laila Robins, the decorated actress who played the very worried (and suspicious) Susan Page.
‘There was a phone call in the bedroom that was rather contentious’
I was actually supposed to be in Roxanne, but three months into me telling everyone I had this role, I got a call from the producer saying that Steve Martin was nervous because this was the first film he’d written without his writing partner, so he wanted another star in the movie. They gave it to Daryl Hannah, and I lost the part. I don’t know the backstory, but maybe for Planes, Trains & Automobiles it was like, “Let’s give her that.”
I shot for about a week at the very tail end of the shoot. They were like five weeks over at that point, and they also were over budget. The set was built on a soundstage in L.A., but when John Hughes saw it, he didn’t like the decorations. So they sent me home for a week while they redid the house. When I came back, it was totally different.
I’d come from the theater and was used to having three weeks of rehearsal, but this was all pulled together very fast. For example, John Hughes gave me this new phone call that he had written for me to memorize and shoot the next day. I’m not a quick study, so I put these cheat sheets on set so I could peek at them during the call, which, of course, they ended up cutting.
I had a scene in the kitchen with my mom where I cried. There was one phone call in the bedroom with me being worried. That phone call, I think it was a bit contentious, if I recall. Those scenes were done with someone else reading the lines. I only worked with Steve for two, maybe three days at the most — just when he arrived home and then for the Thanksgiving dinner, which, again, was mostly cut.
‘A lot of people have talked to me about that final scene — even Kevin Kline’
That final scene was played like, “Thank God, it wasn’t a woman keeping him away. It’s this wonderful man.” A lot of people read into that scene, and a lot of people have talked to me about it. Kevin Kline even talked to me about it. He told me, “I love that scene where you come down the stairs. It’s so beautiful.”
There’s something that really resonates with people about that scene, I get a lot of compliments about it. If there is something enigmatic about my expression, maybe people read into it and project their own feelings onto it.
‘I didn’t know about the cuts until the premiere’
It was hard when I realized so much of my role and storyline had been cut because I thought that I must have been terrible, or that they didn’t like what I did. And I didn’t know about the cuts until the premiere — no one ever tells you these things. But someone reassured me that the film just ran way too long. And, of course, who are you going to cut? Obviously the story is about the two guys.
Either way, I’m very proud to have been a part of Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and I’m happy that it still resonates. After all, it’s a sweet film with a beautiful message: You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and everyone has a story, which you often don’t have any idea about; so you have to have empathy for everyone who crosses your path.