Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) has writers’ block. His wife has just left him and half-inched his latest novel which she’s passing off as her own – the superbly titled, Oprah-perfect Hot Fire – and now, in the class he teaches, aspiring writer Owen Lift (Danny DeVito) is badgering him, hungry for tips to make him a better storyteller.
In frustration, Larry tells Owen to go and watch some Hitchcock in order to witness for himself how things like motive and alibi are conjured by a master craftsman, but in Strangers on a Train, Owen interprets the film’s twist as suggestive code from Larry that they both kill each other’s source of distress – Owen, Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry, Owen’s overbearing Mother (Anne Ramsey).
These days I guess, Throw Momma from the Train would be labelled a Black Comedy, yet typically for a period in time when genre signposting was a lot more open-pastured, there’s a fair amount of genuine schmaltz in there too, of the kind that wouldn’t be amiss in the kind of movie you might watch with your family on Christmas Day. There’s a genuine fondness for Larry and Owen’s relationship though, and the pair prove an engaging and natural double-act in less slapsticky moments. The plot may be thin on the ground and the real laughs sporadic, but kudos to a film that can address matricide, uxoricide, infidelity, and autism, and then make you feel like you’re ready to open your presents and sing Joy to the World.
Words: Ash Verjee