John Hughes’ Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become a seasonal classic since its release in 1987, and for good reason: it’s comedy gold, combining a prickish Steve Martin character with John Candy’s cherubic and aloof shower curtain ring salesman. But Hughes’ Thanksgiving directorial hit often overshadows his other film about trying to get home for the holidays known as Dutch, directed by Peter Faiman. The movie, starring Ed O’Neill as the titular Dutch and a young Ethan Embry as the standoffish Doyle, finds the two feuding on a long car trip home during Thanksgiving break as Dutch attempts to recondition Doyle into a normal human being rather than the rich snob he’s become thanks to his father’s money and a hoity-toity boarding school.
Dutch is far less appreciated than Planes, Trains, & Automobiles or those other holiday classics Home Alone and Home Alone 2, so let’s take a moment to commemorate Dutch‘s place in the holiday cult film canon.
All of the John Hughes themes are here
Let’s say you love Home Alone and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles but you haven’t seen Dutch. My first inclination would be to draw the parallels between those storylines and this film, because there are many. Do you like zany traveling movies where bad stuff happens to people in funny ways? Dutch has that in spades: they get robbed, Doyle smashes up their car, a fireworks show goes wrong, etc. Do you like the symbolic presence of a redhaired female figure? Doyle’s mother is that lady, and there’s a heartwarming homecoming scene just like the aforementioned Hughes movies.
While one could argue that Hughes simply went back to the same well over and over again, it doesn’t discount how wildly funny Dutch can be thanks to the buddy comedy pairing of O’Neill and Embry. Unlike Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (with two adult idiots) and Home Alone (with a lone kid fighting off bad guys), this is a different character pairing for Hughes, and he makes the most of it.
Ed O'Neill as the everyman character
Dutch‘s biggest focal point is ironically Doyle due to his personality shift throughout the film, but the movie finds a perfect fit for its central motivator in Ed O’Neill. While O’Neill had already been popular thanks to his stint as Al Bundy on Married with Children by the time Dutch came around, he’s utilized in a different manner from his bumbling TV character. Okay, well he’s still bumbling as Dutch Dooley, but here he gets to showcase something of a more serious role rather than a caricature of a person. Hughes gives him a solid backstory – he owns a construction company, has built it from the ground up, and now makes a pretty solid living as a manual laborer. The central conceit lies in the distance between Dutch and Doyle on a societal level; Doyle has been raised on the finer things in life without really wondering where they came from thanks to his father’s wealth, and Dutch has always had to work for what he has. Doyle’s implication is that laborers are lesser simply because of their job, and that creates an important hierarchical belief that Dutch has to overcome.
Throughout their journeys, Dutch becomes the everyman character, someone to whom the audience can relate. He’s working class, and though he’s making a good living, it’s not like his life is full of the same splendors that Doyle gets to bask in. Part of Dutch‘s charm is seeing Doyle get his comeuppance, but it’s also about watching him learn to appreciate what he has. Ed O’Neill does a perfect job getting to the heart of his character, and he’s a big reason why the film is so successful during its conclusion.
A perfect depiction of November cold
Because this is a John Hughes-scripted film, Dutch takes place in Chicago – or more specifically, the areas between Georgia and Chicago. And since it’s Thanksgiving-time, the film is set in the snowy days of November. Dutch continually reminds us how cold it is, from hitchhiking scenes to a moment where Dutch makes Doyle walk to the motel in the snow. For northeasterners like myself, the film presents the perfect Thanksgiving season – brutal cold, snowy conditions, and the start of the Christmas holiday season with occasional decorations.
Thanksgivings of late have become unseasonably warm, so it’s always nice to settle down with Dutch and immerse oneself in the cold and blustery conditions of appropriate November weather. Plus, that means we get to see O’Neill’s great scarf (which motivated me to wear my own).
The joy of experiencing a young man get a boner thanks to a prostitute
One of the “unsavory” occurrences during Dutch and Doyle’s trip is a hitchhiking ride with a couple of prostitutes. Ah, we’ve all been there: the car gets destroyed by a huge tractor trailer, the air is cold and crisp, and a couple of sexy working ladies give you a ride to the next town while stealing your money in the process. Doyle gets to experience his blossoming adulthood with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: resting his head on the ample bosoms of the young lady, he drools himself into a delightful slumber dreaming of women, breasts, and I would assume turkey due to the close proximity of the Thanksgiving holiday.
I make a joke out of this, but for real: this is definitely going to be a talking point in this kid’s life for some time, one that Dutch will probably never admit happened.
It's always great to see Christopher McDonald get punched
Christopher McDonald plays Dutch’s father Reed Standish, and he’s an utter asshole the entire time he’s onscreen. So there’s a great moment late in the film when Dutch, tired of all the shit he and Natalie have taken, decides to put a dent in Reed’s forehead with his giant ring. Now no offense to McDonald, but I must say that with a mustache – and also in the context of the film – he certainly looks like a punchable man, and the delivery is excellent. Plus, at this point the ring has been mentioned several times so it makes sense to use it during the film.
BONUS: You can have Ethan Embry throughout the holiday season
1991 was a good year for Ethan Embry and for those viewers who like holiday films. Dutch released in July of that year (admittedly a pretty weird time for a Thanksgiving-themed film) and then in November All I Want for Christmas premiered, again with babyface Embry as a main character celebrating Christmas this time. So start your season off right with Dutch, and then follow it up after Thanksgiving with All I Want for Christmas and have yourself a very Embry holiday season.