The Marathon Car Rental scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade to the time the attendant ends the scene. In that sixty seconds, the "F" word is used eighteen times. The film would've easily been rated PG or PG-13 by the MPAA if it weren't for this one scene.
John Hughes, in an interview on the "Those Aren't Pillows" DVD, said he was inspired to write the film's story after an actual flight he was on from New York to Chicago. The flight was diverted to Wichita, Kansas, taking him five days to get home.
Steve Martin talked in an interview about his late co-star John Candy and his similarities with the character of Del: "Well, he was a very sweet guy. *Very* sweet... and complicated. And so, he was always friendly, always outgoing and you know, funny and nice and polite, but I could tell he had kind of a little broken heart inside him."
Neal's (Steve Martin's) house was also a set built from scratch, consisting of seven rooms, and taking five months to complete. It ended up costing $100,000, which angered Paramount executives, and caused turmoil on the set.
Director John Hughes was known for staging improvisational moments for his actors in order to capture a genuine reaction. Since he was not satisfied with the Owen scene introductions after several takes, he privately instructed Dylan Baker (Owen) to wipe spit in his right hand hand just before shaking hands with Neil Page. Steve Martin was not expecting this, thus his disgusted reaction to shaking Baker's saliva slathered hand. The film crew reportedly exploded in laughter as Martin ran off to wash his hands immediately following the encounter. Hughes got the reaction he needed and the footage was kept in the film.
On instruction from John Hughes, Edie McClurg's role as the St. Louis rental car agent was partially improvised. Hughes told her to simply riff a fake phone conversation with someone about Thanksgiving plans while Steve Martin remains waiting in line staring at her to finish up. McClurg came up with the idea to speak with her sister about who was going to make what adding "You know I can't cook!". Hughes asked her how she came up with those lines so quickly and she replied that, like his scripts, she just drew it from her own life. McClurg claims to this day that random people ask her to tell them they're fucked.
John Hughes' original choice for the train station and platform was the station in Kankakee, Illinois, sixty miles south of Chicago. The cast and crew were in town for a week waiting for the weather to get cold enough to make snow, and several interior scenes were filmed at an abandoned warehouse using a "cover set".
The train used in the movie sits dormant at a small rural station in the Western New York town of Gowanda. The "Contrack" logos are still present on the engine and cars. It's remained unused since the making of the film.
Prior to shooting, John Candy arrived with exercise equipment for him to use during production. Crews had installed a treadmill, bench press, weights, and other exercise gear in his hotel suite. Steve Martin said Candy never used any of it.
According to editor Paul Hirsch, the original cut of this movie was three hours and forty minutes long. He and John Hughes edited it down to two hours. This version was test screened, and it was probably used to edit trailers for the film, which is why they show a lot of deleted scenes. The movie was then edited again down to one hour and thirty-three minutes for theatrical release. According to Hirsch, a two hour version still exists, but he doesn't know where it is.
At the beginning of the movie, Neal Page (Steve Martin) races a character played by Kevin Bacon for a taxi. Later, Neal phones his wife to tell her that he has been delayed (again). In the background, you can hear the fight from She's Having a Baby (1988) (also directed by John Hughes) between Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern, when she screams that she doesn't like his friend's girlfriend.
John Hughes shot over 600,000 feet (180,000 meters) of film, almost twice the industry average. The rumored three-hour version of the film does indeed exist, although not in order. Moreover, it's a mess of footage that would take "months, maybe even years" according to Hughes to transform into an actual film. It is locked away in a Paramount vault, and according to Hughes, most of it has probably deteriorated by now.
Elton John and lyricist Gary Osborne were commissioned to compose the theme song for the film. They had nearly completed writing it when, just two days before they were to record it, Paramount Pictures issued a last minute demand that the original song master become property of the studio. Elton's record company, Polygram, would not allow this as he was under contractual obligation to give Polygram rights to all his released music. Paramount and Polygram could not reach a deal in the impasse and both composers withdrew from the project. Paramount instead opted to license Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away" as the movie's theme song. Elton John's original theme song was never recorded.
Michael McKean's role as the Wisconsin State Trooper was actually much longer as originally shot. In a 1990s interview, McKean said his character was intended to provide additional exposition. As originally shot, Del pleads with the trooper not to impound the smoldering car as he is getting Neal home for Thanksgiving, specifically mentioning home as Chicago, as well as having driven from St. Louis. The trooper then informs them they had overshot Chicago roughly a hundred miles back, noting they were driving north, and were now in Wisconsin. Upon hearing this news, and realizing he could have been home hours ago, as well as their last mode of transportation now gone, Neal attacks Del and winds up chasing him around the car, which the trooper had to comically break up. As plot points frequently changed during filming, John Hughes discarded most of the scene and re-shot it as just a traffic stop resulting in the burnt out car getting impounded, leaving out any information either about where they were or about the pair being lost. Michael McKean had to return to Buffalo to shoot the shorter version which explains the continuity issue between the sunny and cloudy skies in the scene.
In a scene that is not in the theatrical version, (but it airs on the televised version) Del (John Candy) and Neal (Steve Martin) eat dinner on a plane. The scene ends with a long-haired passenger in front of Neal and his or her hair cascades down onto his brownie, completely covering it. Seeing that Neal is no longer hungry, Del fishes through the hair to retrieve and eat it.
Dylan Baker created the Owen character himself. The snorts, facial tics, and twisted expressions are all his own making. Lulie Newcomb, who played his silent wife, said it was extremely difficult to keep a straight face while filming the scene with him.
A scene that is not included in the movie, but featured in the trailer, shows Del (John Candy) in the bathroom of the first motel he and Neal (Steve Martin) are staying in. In the scene he does, among other things, an impersonation of Elvis Presley in which he sings into his hair brush.
According to the biographical book "John Hughes: A Life in Film", one actor, who played a truck driver, was only supposed to have one line and work for one day. Because of the weather-related delays during production Hughes chose to keep him on standby. The actor ended up working enough days while the crew waited for the snow to come that he earned enough money to make a down payment on a house. The actor in question is Troy Evans, who was uncredited, as the shy truck driver in the movie.
John Hughes originally wanted Tom Hanks for the role of Neal Page and John Travolta for the role of Del Griffith. Hanks was unavailable since he was busy shooting Big (1988). Paramount executives did not want Travolta in the movie because he was considered "box office poison" at the time.
The scenes shot at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were shot during winter, but the weather was uncharacteristically warm (mid eighty degrees Fahrenheit), so all the snow in the scene had to be trucked in.
Future "Star Trek Voyager" star Jeri Ryan was cast as an extra in the bus scene, but her part was cut from the final release. John Hughes decided to dismiss the nineteen year old because after several takes, she couldn't stop laughing at Martin and Candy's antics. Ryan had no lines in the scene but her uncontrolled laughter became too much of a distraction. After Ryan left, Hughes re-shot the scene without her.
Cast and crew travelled from the Midwest to the East Coast and back in search of snow for many scenes, which seemed to melt whenever they arrived. The shoot was hellish, and according to some who worked on it, John Hughes' grumpy behavior (he was going through rough times) only made it worse.
Upon receiving the script through his agent, Steve Martin was surprised to discover the script's 145 page length, with a comedy typically aiming for 90 pages. When Martin met with John Hughes, he asked if he had any intention of cutting the script. According to Martin, Hughes looked at him strangely and said "Cutting?", making Martin realize he had no intention of cutting the script.
There was a deleted scene where Neal and Del were going to go into a strip club to find a phone after their car caught fire. Actress Debra Lamb, who had been featured in the scene, had no idea her scene was cut until the official screening of the film.
Del and Neal are pulled over by a Wisconsin State Trooper. Driving from St. Louis to Chicago through Wisconsin would be extremely out of the way, which could explain the added time shown for travel, as driving from St. Louis to Chicago would only take about five hours. It also would explain why the truck they are riding in approaches downtown Chicago from the northwest.
John Candy uses the same line in two movies: "I know it's not pretty to look at, but it'll get you where you wanna go." He says that about the car to the police officer. He also says it in Cool Runnings (1993) when revealing the team's bobsled for the first time.
The second song that both Neal and Del listen to on the radio while they're on the highway at night is "Mess Around" by Ray Charles. Ray Charles and John Candy both had starring roles in The Blues Brothers (1980). Ray Charles plays a music store owner, and John Candy played a police detective.
The green convertible is a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country, with a 2.2 liter turbo engine. It was modified for the film, including the following Dodge 600 parts: tail lights, steering wheel, and owner's manual which can be seen in the glove compartment when Neil puts his wallet in there. The trunk was from an older K-car convertible: no third brake light, and the luggage rack that was not offered in 1986, but was on older models.
The second movie where John Candy plays a passenger who gets on the nerves of another passenger sitting next to him. He did so before in Volunteers (1985). In fact in both movies, he is sitting in a window seat on the right side of the aircraft and his victim was to his left in the aisle seat. In this film on the Greyhound bus, he led the other passengers into song, The Flintstones (1960) to be exact. And in "Volunteers" he led everyone into song ( Puff the Magic Dragon (1978) ) on board an airplane.
When Neal and Del check into the motel in Wichita, Gus, the clerk, has two flags on his counter. It's the American flag crossing the flag of the United States Air Force. Charles Tyner, who played Gus, served in the Army Air Forces, the predecessor of the U.S.A.F. in World War II. Also, McConnell Air Force Base is located in Wichita, Kansas.
In the movie, Neal and Del stay in a hotel called the Braidwood Inn, Wichita, Kansas. The hotel was actually located in Braidwood, Illinois. When Owen stopped by to pick them up the next day, a Jay's Potato Chip truck drives by in the background on I-55. Jay's is a local potato chip company out of Chicago, Illinois.
In the famous "those aren't pillows!!" scene, after jumping out of bed in horror, Neal asks Del "did you see that Bears game last week?" to which Del replies "hell of a game, hell of a game...Bears got a great team this year...gonna go all the way." In 1987, Thanksgiving fell on November 26th, meaning the previous Bears game would have been Sunday, November 22nd. In that game, the Bears did indeed post an impressive 30-10 win over division rival Detroit. At the assumed point that scene happened, the Bears were 8-2, and en route to an 11-4 season (a week 3 game against Detroit was cancelled, due to a player's strike). Unfortunately, they didn't go "all the way", as they would lose 21-17 in the Divisional Round to the Washington Redskins.
At the beginning of the movie, Steve Martin (Neal Page) races Kevin Bacon (taxi racer), which is a direct reference to the scene in the movie Quicksilver (1986), in which the character played by Bacon is racing someone on a bicycle.
Whilst shooting a scene in 'Ferris Bueller' Edie McClurg was approached by John Hughes who gave her a page of script featuring the car rental scene. He asked her to read both parts out loud for him, which she did and he said nothing and took it back. A few months later she received a call from Hughes offering her the part of the desk clerk.
When Del says "turn me over, I'm done on this side" he is quoting St. Lawrence who made the same joke as he was being martyred by being roasted alive on a grill. St. Lawrence is now known as the patron saint of comedians.
On Del's trunk it shows his name as Del O. Griffith, meaning that Del's initials spell out the word 'DOG'. Five months before the release of this film, John Candy appeared in Spaceballs (1987), playing a character named Barf who was half man and half dog.
Early in the movie the full moon is seen over the city. Since this 3-day journey ended on Thanksgiving Day, this would mean the journey was either 1985 or 1988. The 1985 full moon was on Nov. 27 and Thanksgiving Day was on Nov. 28. The 1988 full moon was Nov. 23 and Thanksgiving was Nov. 24. The full moons for years '83, '84, '86, '87, '89, and '90 were no less than 4 days (most more than 7 days) on either side of Thanksgiving for those years.
When Del and Neal are drinking in their hotel room Del says he's going to Jamaica and does a Jamaican accent drinking rum. A couple years later John Candy would play the manager of the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings.
After Del sells some shower curtain rings at he bus station, Del and Neal go for a meal at a diner. In the shot where both Del and Neal can be seen sitting at their booth, there is a waitress and a female customer in the background. Both the waitress and customer are wearing the shower curtain rings as earrings.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent 250 cars for the infamous Rent-a-Car sequence.
The film's plot went through several revisions during production, including the ending. As originally conceived, Del actually boards the Chicago commuter train with Neal and follows him all the way home. During the editing process, John Hughes decided to change the ending so that Del would "take the hint" and allow Neal to return home alone. In order to get the new ending, Hughes and editor Paul Hirsch located footage of Steve Martin on the Chicago train from a previously deleted scene. All of this footage was shot without Martin ever knowing the camera was on. His laughter and facial expressions perfectly matched what Hughes was looking for in the flashback scenes with Del. However, in the raw footage, Martin is only daydreaming or thinking about his lines in the next scene. Hughes remarked that Martin had a "beautiful expression" in those unguarded moments.
When sitting in the refrigerator truck towards the end of the film Del has a black eye, this is a reference to a deleted scene where, after Del and Neal are arrested by the state trooper and they leave the jailhouse, Del mentions not having bought insurance for the rental car they destroyed. As a result, Neal decks him in the face.
Had Neal and Del just stayed at the airport, they probably would've made it back to Chicago just in time. A scene played shortly after shows Neal's wife watching the news which said that O'Hare is clearing up.