Billy Crystal Pulled A Positively Cinematic Prank While Filming ‘Throw Momma From the Train’

Crystal and the crew pulled off a high production-value prank on cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld
Billy Crystal Pulled A Positively Cinematic Prank While Filming ‘Throw Momma From the Train’

Movie and television pranksters regularly pull off stunts that are too preposterous to ever be attempted in real life. Then there’s Billy Crystal, who played a practical joke that was so good that it’s a downright tragedy that the cameras weren’t rolling.

April Fools’ Day is behind us, and few, if any, of the practical jokes pulled this year will be remembered for decades. The usual corporate Twitter accounts have hawked their fake new products, friends and family members have calmed down from many fake pregnancy scares and countless coworkers, roommates and fraternity brothers are still working on getting back to speaking terms after yesterday’s jokes went too far. Even Crystal himself partook in some festive pranking, helping Jimmy Kimmel convince talent relations manager and perennial prank target Cousin Micki that she had to field an angry call from President Biden.

But the Jimmy Kimmel Live! stunt is about as far a cry from Crystal’s best prank as My Giant is from When Harry Met Sally. As Kimmel revealed during Monday’s interview, he absolutely nailed cinematographer and director Barry Sonnenfeld on the set of the 1987 crime comedy Throw Momma From the Train when Sonnenfeld challenged the star to a drag race. 

“Were shooting out about 45 minutes north of L.A. in Indian Wells,” Crystal said of the crime comedy co-starred and directed by the incomparable Danny DeVito, “and theres like four miles of train track.” In this remote location, Crystal and Sonnenfeld had to get creative with ways to entertain themselves when the cameras werent rolling — Crystal described his victim as “a very odd man,” saying that the future Men in Black director was “very quirky and very strange.”

“He had like a Trans Am,” Crystal explained, “and I had my first midlife crisis car, a little black Porsche convertible. Cliché!” Crystal recalled Sonnenfeld ribbing him for his choice of ride, repeating Sonnenfelds words in a nasally impression as, “You dont know how to drive that car! Why dont we race from the border of Indian Wells to the border of Santa Monica tonight and whoever wins takes the other guy out for dinner?”

Crystal accepted the challenge, but while Sonnenfeld was busy shooting, Crystal secretly approached one of the special effects artists to help him pull off a scheme. “I said, ‘Tommy, can you rig his ignition? I got DeVito to say, Gentleman, start your engines, so when we do that, something will happen, and it won’t work, and I can take off? He said, ‘You got it boss!’"

Tommy got to work on Sonnenfelds ride while the cinematographer finished shooting, and at the end of the day, Crystal and the crew were prepared for the race. Crystal described DeVito holding a megaphone as the two men lined up their vehicles, shouting, “Gentleman, start your engines!” Then, just as the race began, “His car explodes! Boom! This big smoke bomb they built into the car — it didnt hurt the car, it just exploded, and I just took off!”

Crystal won the race, and Sonnenfeld held up his end of the bet, buying dinner for the victor. Kimmel asked Crystal if Sonnenfeld caught on to the duplicity, to which Crystal replied, “Not 'til it exploded!”


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?