Throw Momma from the Train

Last updated
Throw Momma from the Train
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Written by Stu Silver
Produced by Larry Brezner
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited byMichael Jablow
Music by David Newman
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date
  • December 11, 1987 (1987-12-11)(United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million
Box office$55.9 million

Throw Momma from the Train is a 1987 American black comedy film directed by and starring Danny DeVito, also starring Billy Crystal and Anne Ramsey, with Rob Reiner, Branford Marsalis, Kim Greist and Kate Mulgrew appearing in supporting roles. [1]


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 , [2] which is also seen in the film. [3]

The film received mixed reviews, but was a commercial success. Anne Ramsey was singled out for praise for her portrayal of the overbearing Mrs. Lift; she won a Saturn Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.


Novelist Larry Donner (Billy Crystal) struggles with writer's block due to his resentment towards his ex-wife Margaret (Kate Mulgrew), who took all the credit for his manuscript and received acclaim for it, while Larry, struggling to make ends meet, takes a job teaching literature at a community college. Owen Lift (Danny DeVito) is a timid, middle-aged man who still lives with his overbearing, harsh and paranoid mother (Anne Ramsey). Owen fantasizes about killing his mother but can't summon the courage to bring his desires to fruition. As a student in Larry's class, Owen is given advice by Larry to view an Alfred Hitchcock film to gain some insight into plot development for his murder 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, where he plans to push her overboard. 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 on a beach 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 the 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 the correct advice on writing. He follows her to the caboose with the intent of killing her, but Owen begins having second thoughts about having his mother killed and gives chase. In the ensuing struggle, Mrs. Lift hangs from the train, but is rescued by Owen and a repentant Larry. Mrs. Lift is grateful to her son for saving her, but unappreciative of Larry's help and kicks him, resulting in him losing his balance and falling off the train to the tracks below.

During his recovery in the hospital, Larry discovers that Margaret is still alive; she had fallen overboard accidentally and was rescued by a Polynesian fisherman whom she has decided to marry. Much to his annoyance, Larry learns that Margaret plans to sell the rights of her ordeal for $1.5 million. On the advice of a fellow patient, Larry chooses to free himself of his obsession with his ex-wife and instead focus on his own life, and write about what recently happened to him, thereby freeing him of his writer's block.

A year later, Larry has finished a novel based on his experiences with Owen and Mrs. Lift, titled Throw Momma from the Train. Owen visits and informs him that his mother has died (albeit naturally) and that he's going to New York City for the release of his own book. Unfortunately for Larry, Owen reveals that his book is also about their experiences together. Thinking that his book has been scooped once again, an enraged Larry proceeds to strangle him, but stops when Owen shows him that his book is a children's pop-up book called Momma, and Owen, and Owen's Friend, Larry with the story drastically altered to be suitable for children. Months later, Larry, Owen, and Larry's girlfriend Beth (Kim Greist) vacation together in Hawaii, reflecting on the final chapter of Larry's book. Larry and Owen's books have now become best-sellers, making them both successful writers, as well as close friends.


Farley Granger and Robert Walker appear via archive footage from Strangers on a Train as Guy Haines and Bruno Anthony, respectively. Oprah Winfrey also appears as herself in a fictional episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show .


In June 1987, Warner Bros. and Orion Pictures made a tradeoff agreement to facilitate the filming of the movie, as well as the development of Arthur 2: On the Rocks , which was supplied for Warner Bros., and the deal was provided by producer Larry Brezner, who produced the movie as well as the original Arthur , and in return to use permission from Strangers on a Train , a 1951 Warner Bros. film, Brezner's production company surrendered the remake and sequel rights of the 1981 film Arthur to Warner Bros., which the original Arthur rights were jointly owned by Rollins, Joffe, Morra and Brezner and Warner Bros., and the Warners could not have proceeded with the Arthur sequel without the consent of Brezner's company. [4]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval score of 64% based on 36 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Danny DeVito's direction is too broad to offer the kind of nastiness that would have made Throw Momma from the Train truly special, but DeVito's on-screen chemistry with co-star Billy Crystal makes this a smoothly entertaining comedy." [5] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 56 based on 14 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". [6] Audiences polled by Cinemascore gave the film a C+ grade on a scale from A+ to F.

Roger Ebert gave the film 2 stars out of 4, stating that "The plot in "Throw Mama from the Train" is top-heavy, but the movie doesn't make as much as it could from its weird characters." [7]

Awards and nominations

Academy Award Best Supporting Actress Anne RamseyNominated
Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress Won
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Danny DeVitoNominated

Related Research Articles

<i>Fury</i> (1936 film) 1936 film by Fritz Lang

Fury is a 1936 American drama film directed by Fritz Lang that tells the story of an innocent man who narrowly escapes being burned to death by a lynch mob and the revenge he then seeks. The film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and stars Sylvia Sidney and Tracy, with a supporting cast featuring Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot, Edward Ellis and Walter Brennan. Loosely based on the events surrounding the Brooke Hart murder in San Jose, California, the film was adapted by Bartlett Cormack and Lang from the story Mob Rule by Norman Krasna. Fury was Lang's first American film.

Anne Ramsey American actress

Angelina "Anne" Ramsey was an American actress. She is best known for her film roles as Mama Fratelli in The Goonies (1985) and as Mrs. Lift in Throw Momma from the Train (1987), the latter of which earned her nominations for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.

Danny DeVito American actor, comedian, and filmmaker

Daniel Michael DeVito Jr. is an American actor, comedian, and filmmaker. He gained prominence for his portrayal of the taxi dispatcher Louie De Palma in the television series Taxi (1978–1983), which won him a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award. He plays Frank Reynolds on the FX and FXX sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2006–present).

<i>Strangers on a Train</i> (film) 1951 film by Alfred Hitchcock

Strangers on a Train is a 1951 American psychological thriller film noir produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and based on the 1950 novel Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. It was shot in the autumn of 1950 and released by Warner Bros. on June 30, 1951, starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, and Robert Walker.

<i>Perfect Strangers</i> (1950 film) 1950 American comedy drama directed by Bretaigne Windust

Perfect Strangers, also released as Too Dangerous to Love in some territories, is a 1950 American comedy-drama film directed by Bretaigne Windust. Edith Sommer wrote the screenplay from an adaption written by George Oppenheimer, based on the 1939 play Ladies and Gentlemen by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. The film stars Ginger Rogers and Dennis Morgan as two jurors who fall in love while sequestered during a murder trial. Thelma Ritter, Margalo Gillmore, and Anthony Ross co-star in supporting roles.

<i>Duplex</i> (film) 2003 film by Danny DeVito

Duplex is a 2003 American black comedy film directed by Danny DeVito and written by Larry Doyle. The film stars Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, Eileen Essell, Harvey Fierstein, Justin Theroux, and James Remar.

<i>Arthur 2: On the Rocks</i> 1988 sequel to the 1981 film Arthur directed by Bud Yorkin

Arthur 2: On the Rocks is a 1988 American romantic comedy film and the sequel to the 1981 film Arthur. Lead actors Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli reprised their roles. John Gielgud, who won an Academy Award for his role in the original film, reappears briefly in a vision to Arthur during a drunken stupor. The film costars Kathy Bates as a woman who helps Arthur and Linda adopt a baby. Almost the entire cast from the first film reprised their roles, except for Jill Eikenberry, who was busy filming L.A. Law at the time. Because of this, the character of Susan was played by Cynthia Sikes instead.

<i>Mildred Pierce</i> (film) 1945 film by Michael Curtiz

Mildred Pierce is a 1945 American film noir directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, and Zachary Scott, also featuring Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, and Bruce Bennett. Based on the 1941 novel by James M. Cain, this was Crawford's first starring role for Warner Bros., after leaving Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

<i>Strangers on a Train</i> (novel) 1950 psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith

Strangers on a Train (1950) is a psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith about two men whose lives become entangled after one of them proposes they "trade" murders.

"Mama From the Train", also known as "Mama From the Train ", is a popular song written by Irving Gordon and published in 1956. The song is about memories of a now-deceased mother, whose Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced English leads to quaint phrasings.

<i>White Heat</i> 1949 American film noir directed by Raoul Walsh

White Heat is a 1949 American film noir directed by Raoul Walsh and starring James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly and Steve Cochran. Written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, White Heat is based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, and is considered to be one of the best gangster movies of all time. In 2003, it was added to the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress.

<i>Fashions of 1934</i> 1934 American musical comedy film directed by William Dieterle

Fashions of 1934 is a 1934 American pre-Code musical comedy film directed by William Dieterle with musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. The screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert and Carl Erickson was based on the story The Fashion Plate by Harry Collins and Warren Duff. The film stars William Powell, Bette Davis, Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh, and has songs by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics). Sometime after the initial release, the title Fashions of 1934 was changed to Fashions, replacing the original title with an insert card stating "William Powell in 'Fashions'".

<i>Lady Windermeres Fan</i> (1925 film) 1925 film

Lady Windermere's Fan is a 1925 American silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It is based on Oscar Wilde's 1892 play Lady Windermere's Fan which was first played in America by Julia Arthur as Lady Windermere and Maurice Barrymore as Lord Darlington. The film is being preserved by several archives. It was transferred onto 16mm film by Associated Artists Productions in the 1950s and shown on television. In 2002, Lady Windermere's Fan was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

<i>The Furies</i> (1930 film) 1930 film

The Furies (1930) is an all-talking pre-Code murder mystery film released by First National Pictures, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., and directed by Alan Crosland. The movie stars Lois Wilson, H.B. Warner, Natalie Moorhead and Theodore von Eltz. The film was based on the 1928 play, of the same name, by Zoe Akins.

<i>Bought</i> 1931 film

Bought is a 1931 American Pre-Code drama film produced and released by Warner Bros. and directed by Archie Mayo. The movie stars Constance Bennett and features Ben Lyon, Richard Bennett and Dorothy Peterson. It is based on the 1930 novel Jackdaw's Strut by Harriet Henry.

<i>The Couch</i> (film) 1962 film

The Couch is a 1962 American psychological horror film directed by Owen Crump from a screenplay by Robert Bloch and a story by Blake Edwards and Owen Crump. The film stars Grant Williams, Shirley Knight, and Onslow Stevens. The film was released by Warner Bros. on February 21, 1962.

<i>Once You Kiss a Stranger</i> 1969 film by Robert Sparr

Once You Kiss a Stranger is a 1969 American thriller film directed by Robert Sparr and written by Norman Katkov and Frank Tarloff. The film stars Paul Burke, Carol Lynley, Martha Hyer, Peter Lind Hayes, Philip Carey, Stephen McNally and Whit Bissell. The film is a loose remake of Strangers on a Train and was released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on November 12, 1969.

Lawrence Ira "Larry" Brezner was an American film producer, most notable for producing films such as Good Morning, Vietnam, Throw Momma from the Train, and Ride Along.

<i>The Goldfinch</i> (film) 2019 film directed by John Crowley

The Goldfinch is a 2019 American drama film directed by John Crowley. It was written by Peter Straughan, who adapted the 2013 novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It stars Ansel Elgort as Theodore Decker, whose life changes after his mother dies in a terrorist bombing at a museum and a dying man convinces him to take a famous painting called The Goldfinch from the museum. Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman appear in supporting roles.

Giorgio Lopez was an Italian actor and voice actor.


  1. Maslin, Janet (December 11, 1987). "Throw Momma from the Train". The New York Times .
  2. Gardner, Eriq (January 29, 2015). "Two Men Inspired By 'Throw Momma from the Train' Fail To Get Away With Murder". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  3. Bailey, Jason (January 14, 2015). "David Fincher, 'Strangers on a Train,' and the Tricky Business of Remaking Hitchcock". Flavorwire . Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  4. "WB, Orion Trade Favors In Making 'Train', 'Arthur 2'". Variety . 1987-06-10. pp. 6, 17.
  5. "Throw Momma FromThe Train". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 23 June 2022.
  6. "Throw Momma From The Train". Metacritic . Retrieved 23 June 2022.
  7. Ebert, Roger (December 11, 1987). "Throw Momma From The Train".

Further reading