Throw Momma From The Train
1987’s Throw Momma From The Train is black comedy done right, an energetic reworking of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 classic Strangers on a Train that features comedians Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito (who also directs the film) in top form. The movie doesn’t really feel like it was made in the 1980’s (it has none of the kitschy cheesiness of many comedies during that decade) and though it was a financial success at the time of its release, it has a surprisingly anti-Hollywood streak of dark humor running throughout. The plot concerns Larry Donner (Crystal) a novelist with writers’ block who hates his ex-wife, and teaches an adult creative writing class. Enter mild mannered Owen Lift (DeVito), a middle-aged loner still living with his overbearing mother (Anne Ramsey). Owen desperately wants to kill off his mum, who constantly berates and abuses him, but he can’t quite summon the courage to go through with it. What follows is a clever riff on Strangers on a Train that combines zany physical comedy, sharp-tongued dialogue, and a delightful sense of weirdness. That the movie directly lifts from Hitchcock’s celebrated suspense thriller is intentional, as DeVito’s character literally goes to watch the movie at one point, which propels the entire plot into motion. Crystal and DeVito work wonders on screen together, with the former playing the dazed straight man to great effect and the latter providing a character that is essentially a creepy whack-job with a certain amount of clueless innocence. But both talented comedians are completely upstaged, however, by Ramsey’s hilarious Oscar-nominated turn as the abusive and foul-mouthed Mrs. Lift. Throw Momma From The Train is an underrated gem with inventive direction, a game cast, and a welcome blast of quirkiness that presaged much of what would later constitute dark comedy in the 1990’s and beyond.