Taglines: Owen asked his friend, Larry, for a small favor…
Novelist Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) struggles with writer’s block due to his resentment towards his ex-wife Margaret (Kate Mulgrew), who stole his book and garnered mainstream success and critical acclaim with it. Owen Lift (Danny DeVito) is a timid, middle-aged fellow who still lives with his overbearing, abusive and paranoid mother (Anne Ramsey).
Owen fantasizes about killing his mother but can’t summon the courage to bring his desires into fruition. As a student in Larry’s community college writing class, Owen is given advice by Larry to view an Alfred Hitchcock film to gain some insight into plot development for his mystery stories. He sees Strangers on a Train, in which two strangers conspire to commit a murder for each other, figuring their lack of connection to the victim will, in theory, establish a perfect alibi. Having overheard Larry’s public rant that he wished his ex-wife dead, Owen forms a plan to kill Margaret, believing that Larry will, in return, kill his mother.
He tracks Margaret down to Hawaii and eventually follows her onto a cruise ship she is taking to her book signing. He then apparently pushes her overboard while she tries to retrieve an earring that fell out. Owen returns from Hawaii to tell Larry of Margaret’s death and that Larry now “owes” him the murder of his mother, lest he inform the police that Larry was the killer.
After having spent the night drinking alone during the hours of Margaret’s disappearance, Larry panics because he lacks a sufficient alibi. That, along with a news report announcing that the police suspect foul play, convinces Larry that he’s the prime suspect. He decides to stay with Owen and his mother in an attempt to hide from the police. Larry meets Mrs. Lift, but despite her harsh treatment of him he refuses to kill her. Eventually, when Mrs. Lift drives Owen to breaking point, Larry finally relents and agrees to go through with the murder.
After two unsuccessful attempts, Larry flees the Lift home when Mrs. Lift recognizes him as a suspect from a news broadcast about his ex-wife’s disappearance. He boards a train to Mexico and, surprisingly, Owen and Mrs. Lift come along so as to avoid having to lie for him. During the journey, Larry’s patience with Mrs. Lift finally runs out when she impolitely gives him advice on writing.
He follows her to the caboose with the intent of throwing her from the train, but Owen begins having second thoughts about having his mother killed and gives chase. In the ensuing fight, Mrs. Lift falls from the train but is rescued by Owen and a repentant Larry. Mrs. Lift is grateful at her son for saving her, but unappreciative of Larry’s help and kicks him, resulting in him losing his balance, landing on the tracks and breaking his leg.
Throw Momma from the Train is a 1987 American black comedy film directed by and starring Danny DeVito in his directorial feature film debut. The film co-stars Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, Anne Ramsey, Branford Marsalis, Kim Greist, and Kate Mulgrew appearing in supporting roles. The title comes from Patti Page’s 1956 hit song, “Mama from the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss)”. The film was inspired by the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Strangers on a Train, which also plays a role in this film.
Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Starring: Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Kim Greist, Anne Ramsey, Kate Mulgrew, Branford Marsalis, Rob Reiner, Bruce Kirby, Annie Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Olivia Brown
Screenplay by: Stu Silver
Production Design by: Ida Random
Cinematography by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Film Editing by: Michael Jablow
Costume Design by: Marilyn Vance
Set Decoration by: Anne D. McCulley
Art Direction by: William A. Elliott
Music by: David Newman
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Release Date: December 11, 1987