Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

PG-13 | 88 mins | Comedy | 11 December 1987

Director:

Danny DeVito

Writer:

Stu Silver

Producer:

Larry Brezner

Cinematographer:

Barry Sonnenfeld

Editor:

Michael Jablow

Production Designer:

Ida Random
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HISTORY

Throw Momma from the Train includes scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film, Strangers on a Train (see entry). A 10 Jun 1987 DV article reported that Orion Pictures made a trade-off deal with Warner Bros. Pictures to use the scenes, without which screenwriter Stu Silver was unwilling to move forward with the project. In exchange, producer Larry Brezner surrendered remake and sequel rights to Arthur (1981, see entry), which his company, Rollins, Morra & Brezner, previously shared with Warner Bros. The sequel, Arthur 2 On the Rocks, was released by Warner Bros. in 1988 (see entry).
       When Larry Brezner offered Danny DeVito the role of “Owen,” DeVito agreed only if he could direct the picture, which marked his feature film directorial debut.
       According to a 16 Dec 1987 LAHExam brief, DeVito wanted film director Brian De Palma to appear in a cameo during the scene in which Owen watches Strangers on a Train in a movie theater. However, De Palma was unavailable for filming due to a scheduling conflict.
       Principal photography began 13 Apr 1987, as noted in the 21 Apr 1987 HR production chart. Production notes in AMPAS library files list the following Los Angeles, CA, locations: Los Angeles Valley College, Highland Park Jail, Vine Street Bar and Grill, and The Vista Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. As noted in the 24 Jun 1987 DV, filming also took place at Hollywood Center Studios. The production moved to Valencia, CA, for the finale, shot in six days at Newhall Farm and Land Company, where a privately owned locomotive with five passenger ...

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Throw Momma from the Train includes scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film, Strangers on a Train (see entry). A 10 Jun 1987 DV article reported that Orion Pictures made a trade-off deal with Warner Bros. Pictures to use the scenes, without which screenwriter Stu Silver was unwilling to move forward with the project. In exchange, producer Larry Brezner surrendered remake and sequel rights to Arthur (1981, see entry), which his company, Rollins, Morra & Brezner, previously shared with Warner Bros. The sequel, Arthur 2 On the Rocks, was released by Warner Bros. in 1988 (see entry).
       When Larry Brezner offered Danny DeVito the role of “Owen,” DeVito agreed only if he could direct the picture, which marked his feature film directorial debut.
       According to a 16 Dec 1987 LAHExam brief, DeVito wanted film director Brian De Palma to appear in a cameo during the scene in which Owen watches Strangers on a Train in a movie theater. However, De Palma was unavailable for filming due to a scheduling conflict.
       Principal photography began 13 Apr 1987, as noted in the 21 Apr 1987 HR production chart. Production notes in AMPAS library files list the following Los Angeles, CA, locations: Los Angeles Valley College, Highland Park Jail, Vine Street Bar and Grill, and The Vista Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. As noted in the 24 Jun 1987 DV, filming also took place at Hollywood Center Studios. The production moved to Valencia, CA, for the finale, shot in six days at Newhall Farm and Land Company, where a privately owned locomotive with five passenger cars and a caboose were run back and forth on “several miles of winding track.” Anne Ramsey insisted on doing many of her own stunts, despite having had “serious surgery” that prohibited her from raising her arm above her head. Ramsey endured bruising from the stunt work, but was quoted in production notes as saying, “I was having more fun than I’ve had in years.”
       Filming was scheduled to conclude on 30 Jun 1987 in Kauai, HI.
       Irving Gordon, who wrote the song “Mama From The Train (A Kiss, A Kiss),” brought a lawsuit against Orion for using his song title. A 21 Jan 1988 LAHExam item noted that Gordon dropped the lawsuit after Orion paid him an undisclosed amount, rumored to be as high as $100,000. Ultimately, the film’s title changed the spelling of “Mama” to “Momma,” but it was not stated whether the change was stipulated by Gordon.
       The Apr 1988 issue of Box reported that the world premiere took place in DeVito’s hometown of Asbury Park, NJ, at the site of the former Paramount Theatre. A benefit premiere also took place at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, with proceeds going toward Child and Family Services, as stated in a 15 Dec 1987 LAT news item.
       Critical reception was largely positive. Anne Ramsey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. Danny DeVito also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. A 16 Dec 1987 HR “Hollywood Report” column cited an opening weekend domestic gross of $7.3 million on 1,470 screens. According to a 2 Jan 2004 Toronto Star article, the film ultimately took in $57.9 million in box-office receipts.
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: The Sheraton Princeville Hotel, Kauai, Hawaii; United Airlines; Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, California. End credits also acknowledge: “Cows & Stripes T Shirt by Woody Jackson ©1986 Holy Cow, Inc.; Photographs from Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert, by Richard Allen Gould, Copyright ©1969, Richard Allen Gould. Reproduced with the permission of Charles Scribner’s son; Photograph of Ernest Hemingway, Tanganyika, early 1934 by permission of Charles Scribner, Jr.”

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Apr 1988
---
Daily Variety
23 Apr 1987
p. 2
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1987
p. 2, 14
Daily Variety
24 Jun 1987
---
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1987
p. 3, 26
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1987
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1987
p. 3, 21
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1987
---
LAHExam
16 Dec 1987
---
LAHExam
21 Jan 1988
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Dec 1987
Calendar, p. 1
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1987
Calendar, p. 13
New York Times
11 Dec 1987
Section C, p. 15
Toronto Star
2 Jan 2004
Section D, p. 2
Variety
16 Dec 1987
p. 11
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Orion Pictures Release
A Rollins, Morra & Brezner production
An Orion Pictures Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Rigging gaffer
Lamp op
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Rigging key grip
Video playback
Process photog
Cranes and dollies by
Processing by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Graphic des
Art dept asst
Sculptor
FILM EDITORS
Addl ed
Asst ed
2d asst ed
2d asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Stand-by painter
Greens foreman
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus ed
Scoring mixer
Mus research
SOUND
Prod sd
Prod sd
Prod sd
Supv sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley by
Foley walker
Foley walker
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec at
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec makeup eff
Spec makeup eff, The Burman Studios
Spec makeup eff, The Burman Studios
Spec eff coord
Spec eff
Spec photog eff
Matte artist
Matte artist
MAKEUP
Hair stylist
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting asst
Extras casting
Extras casting
Addl casting
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Prod assoc
Scr supv
Continuity consultant
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Loc mgr
Caterer
Craft service
First aid
Asst accountant
Const auditor
Asst coord
Office asst
Asst to Mr. Silver
C.S.A. trainee
Post prod auditor
Post prod asst
Unit pub
Financial representative
Train consultant
CFI lab contact
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
SOURCES
SONGS
"Larry's Song," written by Branford Marsalis; "The Hallowed Tales of Delfbear," written by Branford Marsalis; "Puhi Puhi O'Sole Pipi," written by James Kaholokula; "Pua Olena," written by James Kaholokula; "O Ka Laau," written by James Kaholokula; "'The Oprah Winfrey Show' Theme Song," written by Frank Gari & Daniel O. Baker, copyright ©1986, Frank Gari Productions, Inc.; "Shikisha," written by Sipho Mabuse, performed by Sipho Mabuse, courtesy of Virgin Records Ltd. Branford Marsalis appears courtesy of Columbia Records.
PERFORMED BY
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
11 December 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 11 Dec 1987
Production Date:
13 Apr--30 Jun 1987
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Orion Pictures Corporation
14 March 1988
PA360070
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo® in selected theatres
Color
deluxe® Laboratories
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
88
Length(in feet):
7,887
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28906
SYNOPSIS

In Los Angeles, California, aspiring novelist Larry Donner suffers from writer’s block as he attempts to begin a new book. He turns on the television and sees his ex-wife, Margaret, discussing her best-selling novel, Hot Fire, on a daytime talk show. Larry yells at the television, accusing Margaret of stealing his book. Elsewhere, the middle-aged, downtrodden Owen Lift tends to his verbally abusive “Momma.” When she demands a soda, Owen decides to poison her by pouring lye into the drink. However, just as she is about to take a sip, he has second thoughts and bats the cup out of her hand. Later, he attends a community college writing class, taught by Larry Donner. After class, Owen follows Larry to a Laundromat and demands to know what the teacher thought of his story, “Murder at My Friend Harry’s.” Larry tells Owen that his characters lacked motivation and drives away. At home, Larry calls a woman named Beth and leaves her a message, apologizing for missing their date. He returns to the blank page in his typewriter. Still uninspired, he types several variations on the opening line, “The night was hot,” but gets no further. The next day, he finds Beth, an anthropology teacher at the community college, on campus. He apologizes again for missing their date, and she agrees to give him another chance. Several of Larry’s students, including Owen, eavesdrop as Larry complains about his writer’s block and his lack of passion. Beth argues that he is passionate about one thing: his ex-wife, Margaret. As Beth walks away, ...

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In Los Angeles, California, aspiring novelist Larry Donner suffers from writer’s block as he attempts to begin a new book. He turns on the television and sees his ex-wife, Margaret, discussing her best-selling novel, Hot Fire, on a daytime talk show. Larry yells at the television, accusing Margaret of stealing his book. Elsewhere, the middle-aged, downtrodden Owen Lift tends to his verbally abusive “Momma.” When she demands a soda, Owen decides to poison her by pouring lye into the drink. However, just as she is about to take a sip, he has second thoughts and bats the cup out of her hand. Later, he attends a community college writing class, taught by Larry Donner. After class, Owen follows Larry to a Laundromat and demands to know what the teacher thought of his story, “Murder at My Friend Harry’s.” Larry tells Owen that his characters lacked motivation and drives away. At home, Larry calls a woman named Beth and leaves her a message, apologizing for missing their date. He returns to the blank page in his typewriter. Still uninspired, he types several variations on the opening line, “The night was hot,” but gets no further. The next day, he finds Beth, an anthropology teacher at the community college, on campus. He apologizes again for missing their date, and she agrees to give him another chance. Several of Larry’s students, including Owen, eavesdrop as Larry complains about his writer’s block and his lack of passion. Beth argues that he is passionate about one thing: his ex-wife, Margaret. As Beth walks away, Larry shouts that he hates Margaret and wishes she were dead. Owen hounds Larry for a meeting to discuss his story. When they finally get together, Larry explains that a good murder mystery must eliminate the killer’s motive and establish a plausible alibi. He tells Owen to go see an Alfred Hitchcock film for inspiration. Later, Owen watches Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, in which the two leading characters agree to “swap murders,” eliminating each other’s motives. Having overheard Larry’s tirade against his ex-wife, Owen assumes his teacher wants to swap murders with him. He flies to Hawaii, where Margaret Donner lives. Meanwhile, Larry’s agent, who recently signed Margaret as a new client, drops Larry, who goes to the beach to drown his sorrows. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Owen follows Margaret Donner onto a ferryboat. As Margaret leans out over the railing, Owen creeps up behind her. The next morning, Larry is awakened by a call from Owen, who announces that he fulfilled his side of the bargain by murdering Margaret. Dumbfounded, Larry insists there was no bargain. He hangs up and runs to his neighbor Lester’s apartment. He rambles incoherently about needing an alibi, and asks to borrow Lester’s car. Driving to Beth’s house, Larry hears a radio news report confirming Margaret’s disappearance and continues to panic. He explains the ordeal to Beth, who is disturbed by the news, and sends him away. That night, when Owen returns from Hawaii, Larry picks him up at a bus station and demands that he confess to the murder. He attempts to scare Owen into submission by speeding, but loses control of the car and runs off the road. They retreat to Owen’s house, where Larry meets the cold-hearted “Momma,” and begins to understand Owen’s alienation. Owen begs Larry to suffocate Momma with a pillow and leaves the house to go bowling. In Owen’s absence, Larry searches for evidence he can use to incriminate Owen. However, he discovers that Owen purchased a ticket to Hawaii under Larry’s name. Larry is about to leave the house when police arrive to question Owen, who returns home just in time to invite them inside. Owen is disappointed to find Momma still alive and Larry hiding in the pantry. He toys with the idea of turning Larry over to the cops, but does not go through with it. Later, he reprimands Larry for his inaction. Owen sets up a trap for his mother to fall down a flight of stairs, but Larry falls down the stairs instead. Hours later, he regains consciousness and finds Owen trying to kill Momma by blasting a loud horn in her ear. Momma awakens and sees a television news report identifying Larry as the prime suspect in Margaret’s disappearance. She threatens to call police and Larry flees. He boards a train to Mexico. Owen and Momma follow, and the three ride in a train car together. Larry tells Owen he has resolved himself to this turn of events. He believes he has a great ending to a new story, based on his and Owen’s ordeal, but he wonders how to begin, and asks which opening line is better: “The night was humid,” or “The night was moist.” Momma states matter-of-factly that the line should be, “The night was sultry.” Finally driven to kill her, Larry chases Momma through the train. When she reaches the caboose, she loses her balance and falls out. Larry tries to rescue her. Having had a change of heart, Owen arrives and helps Larry pull Momma to safety. Momma praises Owen but kicks Larry off the train. He recuperates from the fall in a hospital, where he turns on the television and sees Margaret being interviewed. She tells a news reporter that she fell overboard when reaching for her diamond earring, and was rescued by a Polynesian fisherman she now plans to marry. She has already sold film rights to her story for $1.5 million. That night, Larry has nightmares about killing Margaret. He wakes up inspired and begins to write. A year later, Owen reunites with Larry at his apartment. Larry has just finished the manuscript for his new novel, Throw Momma from the Train, based on his experiences with Owen and Momma. Owen informs Larry that he recently sold a book about the same thing, titled, Momma and Owen and Owen’s Friend Larry. Believing that his book idea has once again been stolen by another writer, Larry strangles Owen. However, he stops short when Owen produces a copy of the book, which is a children’s book with pop-up illustrations. The final chapter shows Larry, Owen, and Beth taking a trip to Hawaii together. Sometime later, Larry’s book has been published. Beth praises it as she, Larry, and Owen relax on a tropical beach.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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