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Throw Momma from the Train

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by Larry Brezner
Written by Stu Silver
Starring Danny DeVito
Billy Crystal
Kim Greist
Anne Ramsey
Kate Mulgrew
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Editing by Michael Jablow
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s) December 11, 1987
Running time 88 min
Country  United States
Language English

Throw Momma from the Train is a comedy film released in 1987. The movie was inspired by the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Strangers on a Train, which also plays a role in the film. The 1987 film's title comes from the 1956 hit song, Mama From the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss) written by Irving Gordon and sung by Patti Page.

Throw Momma from the Train stars Billy Crystal, Danny DeVito (who also directed), Anne Ramsey, Kim Greist, Rob Reiner, Branford Marsalis, and Kate Mulgrew, with a cameo appearance from Oprah Winfrey. The film received mixed reviews but was a major commercial success. Anne Ramsey was singled out for praise and her portrayal of the maniacal and overbearing Mrs. Lift and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Plot

The movie follows the interaction of the two main characters, Larry Donner (Crystal) and Owen Lift (DeVito).

Larry Donner is a struggling writer who teaches a creative writing class at a community college. Larry feels anger and resentment towards his ex-wife, Margaret (Mulgrew), who has stolen his book and had it published in her name. The book has become a smashing success and has propelled her to undeserved wealth and fame, including the chance to promote the book Hot Fire, on The Oprah Winfrey Show. His anger and resentment at her success, as well as the knowledge that his own literary agent published the book under Margaret's name and knew that it was Larry's book but didn't inform Larry for the sake of profit, causes him to experience writer's block.

Owen Lift is a student in Donner's writing class, but a rather incompetent writer. He is a middle aged timid man who lives with his overbearing, abusive mother (Anne Ramsey). He dreams of killing her, but turns spineless whenever she abuses him.

Owen goes to Larry seeking advice concerning his writing. Larry advises Owen to go see an Alfred Hitchcock film to gain some insight into plot development. Owen also overhears Larry exclaiming that he wished his ex-wife were dead. Owen goes to see Strangers on a Train, a movie in which two strangers meet on a train and one proposes a plot to commit a murder for each other. The murderer's lack of a strong connection to the crime and the other person's ability to establish a perfect alibi at the time of the murder will, in theory, allow each to get away with murder.

Owen believes that the choice of film is a message from Larry. Owen then forms a plan to kill Margaret believing that Larry will respond by killing his mother. He tracks Margaret down to her new home in Hawaii, where he accidentally walks in on her speaking on the phone to her boyfriend while making love to her gardener (although she does not see Owen). Eventually, Owen follows Margaret onto a boat to Maui (where she has a book signing), and apparently pushes her off while she's trying to retrieve her earring (an obvious reference to the original Strangers on a Train novel).

When a news story appears announcing Margaret's disappearance from a cruise ship, Owen comes to Larry and tells him that he has killed Margaret and that Larry now "owes" him the murder of his mother. Larry, in a desperate attempt to hide from the police and from Detective DeBenedetto (played by Bruce Kirby), who has been assigned to bring Larry in for questioning, stays with Owen and his mother for the next few days. Larry meets Mrs. Lift, and despite her foul treatment of him, he still refuses to kill her. Eventually, when Mrs. Lift drives Owen to the breaking point, Larry finally relents and agrees to go through with the murder.

Owen and Larry bond over the time, and make up (with a reluctant Larry) two plans to kill Mrs. Lift. The first one involves Larry suffocating the sleeping Mrs. Lift with a pillow, but he chickens out when he sees that her eyes are still open, and narrowly escapes police arrest by hiding in the pantry (Owen, believing Larry had killed his mother and fled, lets DeBenedetto and his assistant inside). The second consists of Larry pushing Mrs. Lift down the staircase to the basement through a door Owen loosens before going bowling (his alibi), but Mrs. Lift, despite Larry's warning, punches the door, and it doesn't fall, prompting Larry to test it and fall into the basement, knocking himself unconscious. Owen returns home, and Mrs. Lift tells him Larry is dead, mocking him at the same time. Enraged, Owen tries to kill his sleeping mother himself by blowing a trumpet in her ear to give her a heart attack. The noise wakes Larry up, but doesn't kill Mrs. Lift, and in her delusion, she hits Larry in the crotch with her cane, again knocking him out.

The next day, a newsflash announces a bounty on Larry's head by the police, and Mrs. Lift attempts to call the police, believing Larry to be a murderer. Larry rips the phone wire apart and flees for Mexico on train. Surprisingly, Owen and Mrs. Lift accompany him so as to avoid having to lie for him. During the journey, Larry's patience with Mrs. Lift reaches its pinnacle when she unintentionally gives him advice on writing. Believing Mrs. Lift was trying to steal his ideas like Margaret had, Larry follows her out of the compartment after telling Owen that he intends to kill her. Owen, however, realising that he doesn't really want his mother to die, gives chase to the end of the train, and in the ensuing fight, Mrs. Lift almost falls off the train, but is saved by Larry and Owen. Owen thus earns his mother's genuine love and respect, but Mrs. Lift angrily kicks Larry off the train, causing him to fall onto the railway and break his leg.

Margaret is later discovered alive after being rescued by a Polynesian fisherman, and they are going to be married. Larry, seeing this on the news in a hospital, realises that Owen didn't actually kill her but she had simply fallen overboard, and Owen told Larry otherwise so as not to risk Larry going back on their "deal". To Larry's annoyance, Margaret's accident is only going to make her richer, as she has sold the movie rights of the accident for a fortune. His only solace is that Margaret is alive and the police will now leave him alone.

A year later, Larry writes a book about his experiences with Owen and his mother (titled Throw Momma from the Train), and a while before finishing, he is visited by Owen, who tells him that his mother has died (of natural causes) and that he is going to New York for the release of his new book. Unfortunately, Owen reveals that it is also about their experiences together, and an enraged Larry tries to strangle him until Owen shows him a published copy of the book, which is actually a children's pop-up book with the story drastically altered to be suitable for children (with the title Momma, Owen, and Owen's friend Larry).

The film concludes with Larry, Owen and Beth (Larry's lover, played by Kim Greist) on holiday together in Hawaii, reflecting the final chapter of Larry's book. Larry and Owen's books have now become best-sellers, making them the writers they always wanted to be.

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